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GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES & MAX KINGSLEY-JONES / MANCHESTER

The latest stretched variants of the Boeing 757 and 767 twinjets have been well received by their operators, but sales remain sluggish

The Boeing 757 and 767 twinjets have been, metaphorically speaking, joined at the hip since early in their development more than two decades ago. Although one is a narrowbody and the other a widebody, the aircraft entered service within months of each other in 1982, with identical cockpits allowing a common type rating.

The family has grown apart slightly with the changes introduced on the latest stretch derivatives, the 757-300 and 767-400ER. The new models have been earning money now for their customers for several years, but although they have been generally well received, they have so far failed to emulate the sales of their predecessors.

Boeing waited 18 years after the go-ahead of the original 190 to 230-seat 757-200 to launch a "minimum change" -300 growth version in 1996. Meanwhile, the 767-400ER, which was launched a year later, represents the third major derivative of the widebody twinjet after the baseline -200/200ER and -300/300ER stretch, and incorporates some significant technical changes.

To date, Boeing has only sold 99 of the variants - 62 757-300s and 37 767-400ERs - and is struggling to secure more sales. Its efforts have been hampered by the downturn that hit not long after their introduction. Boeing acknowledges that the long-term future of the entire 757 programme is dependent upon the success of the -300. The manufacturer remains confident that, despite the recent dearth of 767 sales, more will come, particularly for the -400ER.

Boeing had accumulated orders for more than 800 757-200s when it launched the stretched model at the Farnborough air show in September 1996. The go-ahead was underwritten by a 12-aircraft order from German charter airline Condor (now Thomas Cook Airlines Germany). Incorporating a 7.1m (23ft 4in) fuselage extension, which increases seating to 240-280 passengers, the -300's other key changes comprise increased weights; a tailskid; flightdeck upgrades including a flap skew indicator; additional exits; and a new interior with a vacuum waste system, which has been transitioned on to the -200 (Flight International, 24-30 March 1999). Boeing says the -300 provides a 9% reduction in seat-km costs over its smaller sister.

Powerplant options

The Rolls-Royce RB211-535E4B-powered model was the first version of the -300 to fly, in August 1998, and was put into service by Condor in March 1999. There are 39 in service with seven operators in Europe, North America and the Middle East - all of which also operate the 757-200. Northwest Airlines became the first, and to date only, operator of the Pratt & Whitney PW2000-powered version in July 2002.

As launch customer, Condor/Thomas Cook played a key role in the design of the 757-300. Its 13-aircraft fleet makes it the largest -300 operator currently, but it will ultimately be overtaken by Continental Airlines and Northwest. The -300s are equipped with a 252-seat/30in (760mm) pitch configuration.

According to Thomas Cook Group executive vice-president of airline operations Dr Rudolf Tewes, the -300 was acquired to boost capacity on European holiday routes such as to the Canary Islands, but there were concerns that the long, narrow cabin might be slow to turn round and unpopular with passengers.

"We found that baggage loading rather than passenger boarding and de-boarding was the limiting factor," he says. Loading is aided by the powered belt system, or "magic carpet", in the rear cargo hold. "With a baggage loading team that knows the -300, it can be turned in 45min….1h is normally sufficient," he adds.

According to Tewes, Thomas Cook's regular passenger surveys return generally positive reactions to the aircraft's interior. He adds that trials with the aircraft on the scheduled services of its sister airline Lufthansa between Frankfurt and Munich, which are normally served by a widebody Airbus, proved that the 757-300 is suitable for the airline's domestic shuttle operations. "It provides a substantial benefit on seat-km costs," he says, adding that the -300 is one option for Lufthansa's long- term fleet requirement on these routes.

Despite its 757-200 fleet being PW2000-powered, Condor chose the RB211 engine for the -300. Tewes says it is a trade-off between the engines: "The Pratt &Whitney engine has lower fuel consumption, but the Rolls-Royce is more reliable."

Thomas Cook's plans for the 757-300 have suffered as result of the overcapacity in the German tour market, and at one point the airline was facing the prospect of parking some of the fleet. This will now be avoided by leasing two aircraft to Transavia for the 2003 summer season and grounding four -200s.

When JMC Airlines - now Thomas Cook UK (TCUK) - ordered its two 757-300s in May 2000, it was part of the rival Preussag/TUI tour operator grouping. Consolidation and restructuring of the European tour market has resulted in the Manchester-based charter airline becoming the UK arm of Condor's parent C&N Touristic, now trading as Thomas Cook, providing an accidental if somewhat convenient synergy for its 757-300 fleet.

The high level of commonality between the -300 and its smaller sister meant that, when the first aircraft arrived in Manchester in April 2001, "it was effectively just another -200, except that when it came around the corner it just kept coming," says TCUK's interim director engineering and maintenance Gene Taylor, with reference to its greater length.

TCUK deploys its two RB211-powered -300s across its entire European network from Manchester and London Gatwick, with its longest legs being to Cyprus and the Canaries. They are equipped with a 280-seat/29in pitch cabin - 45 more than its -200s and the highest number of seats on any single-aisle aircraft in the world.

High reliability

Taylor says that reliability has been impressive, illustrated by the fact that, for four months during its summer 2002 season, its -300 fleet recorded a technical despatch reliability (TDR) of 100%, with the aircraft flying an average of 13.5h and four cycles each day. The airline's -300 TDR currently stands at 99.4%.

The one major issue has been the shorter-than-expected life of the engine's igniter plugs, with failures only being detected on engine start-up. The RB211-535E4B has two igniter plugs, but a failure of either requires replacement before the aircraft can be dispatched. "Around 40min is required to swap out a plug," says Taylor, adding that changes to the replacement policy "has reduced but not eliminated the likelihood of plug failure".

Anticipated turnaround problems proved unfounded, with the airline allowing 1h 15 min at its home bases, and 1h down-route. The "magic carpet" baggage loading system is given much of the credit for achieving these targets.

The -300 is flown by the airline's -200 pilots, and some Boeing-recommended tweaks were made to the operating procedures across the entire 757 fleet to eliminate any risk of tailscrapes on the stretched model. "The rotation rate during take-off has been reduced by 0.5°/s from 3° to 2.5°," says TCUK's deputy director of flight operations Capt Adrian Richards.

He adds that the increased length of the -300 gave some concern about ground manoeuvring in restricted spaces: "To avoid any problems, we artificially limited the turning requirement to 46m, but this means we can't turn around on a 45m- wide runway."

The greater length means the -300 is much more sensitive to the centre of gravity (CG) position. Richards says that, if there is a lot of cargo in the rear hold, passenger loading and unloading from the front and rear of the cabin is sequenced to avoid a potentially embarrassing incident.

The -300's CG characteristics are also beneficial as they can provide optimised take-off performance in certain conditions with an aft CG, using nose-down horizontal stabiliser trim. "This can provide up to 500kg [1,100lb] more payload for a given take-off run," says Richards, adding that "it can also enhance cruise SFC [specific fuel consumption]".

Speed stability

The aircraft's greater size makes it easier to fly than the -200: "It's more speed stable on the approach," says Richards. However, the higher weights have taken the edge off the phenomenal climb performance that pilots enjoy with the -200, he adds.

Operating the longest sectors from Manchester with a full load, the -300 struggles to reach some altitude gates in the southern UK. "The -300's climb profile means that ATC limits us to FL290 [29,000ft] through the London TMA [terminal manoeuvring area], which can restrict us if we need to re-route," says TCUK's operations manager Damian Ives.

Continental took delivery of its first 757-300 in December 2001 and currently operates a fleet of four. It is due to take a further six aircraft in 2004 and five in 2005.

Continental technical services staff vice- president Ken Burtt echoes other operators' views that the -300's turnaround time has "not been a problem", and adds that in terms of mechanical dispatch reliability, "it really is an excellent aircraft".

Continental deploys the 210-seat aircraft seasonably to suit the needs of low-yield traffic in the winter and high-load traffic in the summer. "In the winter we deploy the -300s on domestic markets where we have high passenger loads and large baggage volumes, and yet where yields are low," says Burtt.

Typical routes include New York Newark to popular Florida destinations such as Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and West Palm Beach, as well as San Juan and Santa Domingo in the Caribbean. "In these markets the clientele tends to be a bit older, so we have a lot of wheelchairs. With the -200 we'd give 55- 60min turnaround time, but with the -300 we usually allow 65-70min if possible to get the wheelchairs on and off," says schedule optimisation manager Phillip Lindsey, who adds that the "magic carpet" baggage loading system is a big benefit.

"We are basically getting 767-200 widebody capacity at a narrowbody price. It is a very CASM [cost per aircraft seat mile] effective aircraft," says Lindsey.

In its summer schedules, Continental deploys the -300 to Houston to serve West Coast cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Denver. "During peak times the -300 allows us to fly more passengers to connect to banks of flights at the hubs," says Burtt.

Northwest Airlines originally announced in January 2001 an order for 20 757-300s as part of a large-scale rollover programme to standardise its domestic fleet on three main types. The order was later trimmed to 16, although a further 16 remain on option, while Northwest dropped a commitment to take further 757-200s from 2006. Seven -300s were delivered in 2002, while a further nine are due to be handed over in 2003.

Fleet simplification

The aircraft are configured with a 223-seat, two-class layout and are replacing DC-10-40s on services from its hubs in Detroit and Minneapolis/St Paul to destinations on the US West Coast, Arizona and Florida. The aircraft is also due to begin serving its Memphis hub by mid-year.

"It represents a big step in the simplification of the domestic fleet from five types to three," says the carrier. The last 727-200 was retired in early January, while the final DC-10-40 operation was last September.

The 757-300s join the airline's 48-strong fleet of 757-200s and are treated for most planning purposes as a single fleet. North-west says: "The 757-300 is filling a critical role on long-haul, high-traffic flights within our domestic network. As a large operator of the 757-200, we've realised efficiencies in training and maintenance."

Boeing launched the 767-400ER in April 1997 when Delta Air Lines placed orders for 21 aircraft, followed in October by Continental's order for 26 aircraft (since reduced to 16). The 6.4m fuselage stretch increases typical three-class accommodation over the -300ER by 27 seats to 245. Unlike the 757-300, the new 767 model incorporates some major changes (Flight International, 25-31 August 1999). These include a new wing-to-body fairing; 2.4m- span composite, raked wingtips; a new flightdeck based on 777 architecture incorporating Rockwell Collins avionics; a new 777-style cabin with oval passenger windows, and revised electrical and air conditioning systems.

Although both the General Electric CF6-80C2 and the P&W PW4000 were offered on the aircraft, both customers selected the GE engine, which is currently the only powerplant certificated on the -400ER. The CF6-80C2B7F1/8F is modified with 777-style 120kVA integrated drive generators and digital bleed controls, with the flight controls modified to incorporate a yaw damper/stabiliser trim module.

Despite the many internal changes, Boeing did not increase fuel volume over the -300ER by offering a tail fuel option - a decision that may well be reflected in the model's low sales tally.

The two US carriers received their first aircraft in August 2000 and deliveries of all 37 aircraft were completed in May 2002, making the -400ER the smallest sub-fleet of the 767 family, deliveries of which now number close to 900.

Leasing prospects

Leasing companies GE Capital Aviation Services and International Lease Finance both held orders, but switched to other variants when they saw that leasing prospects were slim. The -400ER's sales prospects were dealt a blow by Boeing's decision two years ago to abandon the proposed longer-range -400ERX model, forcing Kenya Airways to drop its planned order.

Continental, which operates 16 767-400ERs, is using the stretched aircraft's extra capacity to improve seasonal flexibility in much the same way as the 757-300 does. "The -400 is a good mid-range aircraft," says Burtt. The aircraft, configured with a two-class, 235-seat layout, has replaced DC-10-30s on some routes, particularly from Continental Micronesia's Guam hub where five of the fleet are based to operate the carrier's Pacific routes to Saipan, Honolulu and onwards to Los Angeles.

Unlike Delta, which took 21 767-300ERs in direct replacement for its Lockheed L-1011 TriStar fleet, Continental has introduced the new aircraft to plug capacity gaps between the 767-200 and 777-200, as well as replace a handful of DC-10s. "The 767-400ER has around the same range as the -200ER but, because the -400ER is a heavier aircraft, it doesn't always make sense for us to use it on routes such as Houston-Amsterdam. We fly this in winter with a 767-200ER and with a 777 in summer," says Burtt. "The -400ERs are used from New York Newark for transatlantic routes, and they also do well for us into South America from Houston." Other key 767-400ER routes from Newark include Frankfurt, Manchester and Paris, while Latin American destinations from Houston include São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Says Continental's Phillip Lindsey: "With the São Paulo/Rio run it's the first year we did it, but the performance was good." He adds that the operation is "close to the edge of the envelope in terms of range".

As with the 757-300, the extra capacity of the -400ER makes the aircraft useful for coping with the winter traffic surges to the Caribbean - particularly Continental's main destinations at San Juan and Santa Domingo. "It has been useful where there has been lots of tourist/family traffic and where we normally have lots of bulk cargo issues in the belly hold," he adds.

Scheduled dispatch reliability for the Delta fleet is around 98.8%, similar to its 767-300s, while that of the Continental's fleet is around 98.75%.

Boeing 757-300 orderbook

Customer

Delivered

On order

Total

Engines

First delivery

Arkia

2

0

2

R-R

Jan 2000

ATA

10

2

12

R-R

Aug 2001

Continental Airlines

4

11

15

R-R

Dec 2001

Icelandair

1

1

2

R-R

Mar 2002

Northwest Airlines

7

9

16

P&W

Jul 2002

Thomas Cook Airlines (Germany)

13

0

13

R-R

Mar 1999

Thomas Cook Airlines (UK)

2

0

2

R-R

April 2001

Total

39

23

62
   

Source: Airclaims CASE database