Icelandair Getting Close On Boeing 757 Replacement Plans

Icelandair will decide before the end of the year what aircraft will replace its fleet of aging Boeing 757s. That was what the carrier’s CEO, Bogi Nils Bogason, said in an interview with CAPA, reported by AirInsight, on September 8th. While its 757s have low ownership costs, it seeks modern aircraft with appropriate range, lower fuel consumption, and better environmental performance.

Icelandair 757
Icelandair expects to decide what type will replace its 757s in the next few months. Some aircraft, such as TF-LLX, have already left its fleet. Photo: Liam Allport via Flickr.

Icelandair’s B757s

Icelandair is most known for connecting North America and Europe via its Keflavik hub. In this role, longer-range narrowbodies like the 757 play a vital role. They’re also important for not having too many seats to fill (vital during winter) and helping to typically achieve a round-trip each day across both Europe and the US/Canada.

AirInsight says Icelandair has had 24 757s, comprising 22 -200s and two -300s, of which nine -200s and both of its -300s are operational. Its passenger -200 versions have 184 seats while its higher-capacity -300s have 225. As AirInsight reported, Icelandair’s CEO said:

“We are now reviewing our long-term strategy which aircraft will replace the 757, and which aircraft we will use for destinations like Seattle, Portland, Orlando, and so on, going forward. And the plan is to conclude this work before the end of this year.”

Icelandair B757
Icelandair will need another aircraft for its West Coast operations and any future expansion there. Because of the range of the MAX, especially during winter, this really means the B767-300ER or the A321LR/XLR. However, its 767s have an average age of 22.7 years. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying.

Icelandair’s MAX thoughts

Icelandair now has nine Boeing 737 MAXs, ch-aviation.com shows, comprising six -8s (five active) and three -9s (one active). The type is now the smallest jet aircraft in its fleet and has quickly become important.

The MAX operates many different sector lengths, including Orlando and Seattle – the latter the world’s longest non-stop 737 route this summer. No wonder some have said the MAX would replace the 757. Reiterating previous comments about how well the MAX is performing, AirInsight quotes the carrier’s CEO’s happiness with the type:

“We are very pleased with the performance of the Boeing 737 MAX and the aircraft has outperformed expectations, both regarding range and fuel efficiency. Of course, it goes hand in hand. And the CO2 emission is about 36 percent lower than on the 757 so we are extremely happy with the performance of the automatics. And the aircraft is, of course, much more environmentally friendly than the 757.”

Icelandair MAX
Icelandair uses the MAX on multiple routes this summer, including Seattle and Orlando. Photo: Boeing.

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To the MAX

The MAX 8 and 9 both have the same theoretical and non-real-world limit of 3,550nm. While Seattle has seen the MAX during the summer, it reverts to the B757-200 this winter. This 3,148nm route would likely have payload restrictions in winter because of stronger headwinds that would limit performance. It takes around eight hours to Seattle in summer.

This could be why Airinsight says that the MAX is suitable only for 85% of Icelandair’s routes, ruling out the West Coast. In that part of the US, Icelandair serves Seattle and Portland (3,248nm), with Anchorage (2,940nm) returning from May 2022. Another type will be needed for Portland and Seattle year-round, and if further expansion – with longer routes – is targeted.

Icelandair MAX
The issue of the 757 replacement concerns West Coast US routes. Photo: John Taggart via Flickr.

Could the A321LR or XLR be ordered?

San Francisco operated between 2018 and 2020, although it might return. If the 3,653nm route does come back – or if Los Angeles (3,748nm) is served in the future, as it was with WOW – obviously another type will be needed. Could the 262-seat B767-300ER, of which Icelandair has four, be used?

Or might Icelandair order the A321LR/XLR? Both California routes would be similar in range to what was the longest LR route across the North Atlantic: the 3,713nm service from Stockholm to Chicago, operated by SAS.

However, the XLR is expected to be a real-world B757-200 replacement: more modern and fuel-efficient while flying a higher payload for longer. An A321 order is likely, but it’s less likely to be driven by Play’s intention to serve the US, which will probably be more conservative than WOW.

How likely do you think it is that the A321 will be acquired? Let us know in the comments.

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