The outlook for the Boeing 757 is growing increasingly gloomy, with Continental Airlines negotiating changes to its order for 11 aircraft, which accounts for over half the dwindling backlog for the twinjet.

"We are discussing with Continental the terms of delivery at this time," says Boeing, but adds that no details of the options or the finalised delivery changes will be released until the negotiations are complete.

Continental has outstanding firm orders for 11 757-300s and an unspecified number of options that could yet be converted, says Boeing, which still holds firm orders on seven more 757s, one of which is for a -200. Customer airlines include ATA (one), Air 2000 (one), Icelandair (one) and Northwest Airlines (four).

Boeing declines to comment on the critical backlog situation, but it is awaiting news from China where it is pinning hopes for orders to keep the line open beyond 2005.

Boeing has proposals for up to 12 aircraft with three Chinese airlines, or enough business to extend production for a year at minimum rates. Offers are thought to include five aircraft at Shanghai Airlines, four with Zianjing Airlines, and three for China Aviation Supplies.

The success of the 757-300, once perceived as the natural successor in the US domestic market for the large fleet of 757-200s operated by the US majors, has been badly affected by the slow recovery of the US market. Another possible lifeline for the aircraft - a bid made by Boeing to FedEx Express earlier this year covering guarantees over the supply of a standardised fleet of 757-200Fs - appears to have come to nothing. Express package company sources says the offer has been rejected on cost grounds, and Boeing has conceded that there was a "big gap" between what the two parties believed was the right price for the aircraft. Studies are being made of secondhand 737-300/400s and 757-200s as a 727 replacement.

FedEx sources say the company expects to select one type rather than operate both and adds that converted aircraft "make sense" because of the carrier's low utilisation and the availability of aircraft and passenger-to-freight conversions. It adds that even converting aircraft with "30,000h plus" on the airframe, makes more sense financially than new-build narrowbodies.

Source: Flight International