The Boeing 757 has been a standout workhorse for over three decades, having taken over from the 727 as the narrowbody leader of its day. However, the current coronavirus crisis has seen huge numbers of these aircraft parked up and has raised questions over how many, if any, will return to active service once travel demand picks up.
The decline of the 757
According to data from Cirium, carried by Flight Global, the 757 has seen the most groundings of any narrowbody aircraft variant. The active passenger fleet, as of the 16th April, is just 71 aircraft, representing 18.2% of the usual capacity. Altogether, 344 passenger 757s are used by airlines all over the world,
The next worst-hit narrowbody is the fleet of older Boeing 737s, known as the ‘Classic’ series. The -300s, 400s, and 500s have seen fleet numbers cut by three quarters, with just 24.2% of the global fleet still operational. Unsurprisingly, the aging McDonnel-Douglas MD-80/90 aircraft have seen a similar drop, with just 91 aircraft, 28.4% of the fleet, still in active service.
The families less severely affected are, predictably enough, mainly the newer and more efficient aircraft types. The 737NGs still number 2,924, or 45.2% of the fleet, while the A220 and A320neo families have 44.9% and 39.9%, respectively.
The real surprise in the list is the 717, which has seen the fewest reductions of any narrowbody type. Cirium data shows 68 of the type still in service, representing 45.9% of the fleet. The 717 is widely operated by Delta, and undoubtedly this is where the lion’s share of these numbers come from. Other operators include Hawaiian, QantasLink, and Volotea, who may all have one or two remaining in service.
Who is still operating the 757?
According to data on Planespotters, Delta is the airline with the most 757s still in operation. It has 38 of its 127 strong fleet still in active service, benefiting from the domestic routes in the US, which are still attracting some passengers. Delta is the world’s biggest operator of the 757.
United Airlines has 10 757s still in service, out of a fleet of 72. This is split between five 757-200s and five of the larger 757-300s.
Icelandair, an airline that has been increasingly reliant on its Boeing 757s to fill the gap left by its incoming 737 MAX, appears to have grounded 25 of its 27 aircraft. One of the remaining two is configured for cargo only, leaving it with just TF-LLX still flying. FlightRadar24.com shows this 757 is maintaining air bridges between Copenhagen in Denmark and London and Glasgow in the UK.
Privilege Style, a Spanish charter airline, headquartered at Palma de Mallorca, is keeping two 757s operational, although FlightRadar24.com data shows that neither has flown since the 7th April.
German airline Condor is keeping two of its 757-300s in service for the time being. D-ABOB, although not stored at this time, has not flown since 27th February. D-ABOK, aside from a positioning flight this morning from Frankfurt to Hamburg, has not operated since the 28th March.
Sunday Airlines, a charter company based in Kazakhstan, has not reported any of its four 757s as being grounded. SCAT operates all four, and all but one has flown in the past week. UK leisure airlines Jet2 and TUI UK have grounded their combined fleet of 18 757s, as have most other prominent operators.
Will they return?
The world’s 757 fleet is getting old and outclassed in terms of efficiency by the modern narrowbody alternatives. Many airlines already had plans in place to phase these out, although some found it necessary to hold on to the 757 in the wake of the 737 MAX grounding.
However, while some carriers such as American Airlines have already taken the opportunity to accelerate their retirement of the type, others are staunchly holding on to the 757. United Airlines last year painted beautiful liveries on a couple of 757s and is likely to want some mileage out of them before they’re retired.
Delta has made it clear it has no firm timeline for 757 retirement. Icelandair is waiting on its MAXs to begin retiring the type. Should the MAX be cleared to fly this year, we could see Icelandair returning with a much smaller fleet of 757s.
In a nutshell, we’ll see the 757 back in the skies for sure, but the global fleet may well be much smaller than it was before the crisis.