Why Did Boeing Build The 757?


The Boeing 757 is a bit of an odd aircraft. Built after the Boeing 727 and developed at the same time as the Boeing 767, it filled a unique hole in the aviation market that has arguably not been filled since. Why was it built? Let us explore.

Boeing 757
The Boeing 757 had an ever-evolving role since its creation. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

When did Boeing build the Boeing 757?

Boeing began to develop a new aircraft after the success of the Boeing 727. The 727 series had become the best selling aircraft of the 1960s and was the main workhorse of US aviation. Looking at the market, airlines wanted a bigger version of the 727 and asked Boeing if it could improve on the 727-200s 189 seats.

The manufacturer offered two concepts. The first was a longer Boeing 727-300 that would have the advantage of being built in five years with the added seats, or a newer concept aircraft developed from the ground up called the 7N7. Initially, airlines like United Airlines took an interest in the stretched 727-300 as it would easily fit into existing operations.

But when Boeing released details of the 7N7, and how it would take advantage of newer technologies like high-bypass-fan turbofan engines, lighter weight design and, most importantly, lower operating costs, airlines reconsidered their options. Seeing the wind change, they dropped the 727-300 and its three-engine design in favor of the 7N7.

From here, Boeing decided to move forward on the 7N7 and renamed it the Boeing 757.

Boeing 757
A retro painted British Airways Boeing 757. Photo: Mark Harkin via Flickr

What was the first concept of the Boeing 757?

In 1978, Boeing had two versions of the 757:

  • 757-100 that could seat 160 passengers
  • 757-200 which sat 180 passenger

When shopping around to airlines, many picked the 757-200 over the smaller 757-100. Boeing would then drop the shorter version (and its role would be eventually filled by the Boeing 737). In March of 1979, Boeing officially signed two orders for the 757-200 with British Airways and Eastern Air Lines for a combined total of 40 aircraft.

During the design phase, Boeing pooled resources away from the 707 line and into a parallel project called the 767 (which was a replacement of the 707). This led to many new 767 features being ‘borrowed’ by the 757 program. The 767 program was a few months ahead in development, and its technological improvements were leaps and bounds over the older 727 design that the 757 had been working from. Some of these features included the same interior, handling characteristics, and the design for a two-person cockpit (leaving behind the need for a third person).

Thanks to this shared design process, many pilots would be able to fly both the 757 and the 767 with some minor training. Delivery of the first Boeing 757-200 was on December 22, 1982, to Eastern Airlines.

American 757
The aircraft would become very popular for tourist routes. Photo: Getty Images

The evolving role of the Boeing 757

The Boeing 757 would go on to fill the middle of the market role for airlines around the world. This would be routes that had high demand (thus not suitable for Boeing 727s) but not enough to warrant the widebody Boeing 767. You can read our comparison article here.

When ETOPS was changed to allow twin-engined aircraft to fly over the Atlantic, many airlines chose to operate the Boeing 757 (and the 767) from North America to Europe. They would fly to smaller cities and allow airlines to carve out lucrative tourist routes without flying through hub airports (like London).

Overall, the Boeing 757 was designed for airlines looking for a bigger Boeing 727, and a refreshed look at the design. Flying internationally wasn’t its original purpose, but it turned out to be highly suitable for the job.

Have you flown on a Boeing 757? Let us know in the comments.