Some United Airlines’ 757-200s are going to stick around a bit longer. The carrier has 15 “p.s. config” planes (28 flat beds up front) that historically flew the JFK-LAX/SFO premium transcon routes. These aircraft were not expected to receive the necessary fire suppression upgrades to the fuel tanks to continue operating too much longer. Now it appears plans have changed. While the news is still just rumor right now the source is generally reliable so I’m willing to call it very, very likely accurate. And given that the new management team was keen to do a full top-to-bottom review of fleet planning this seems to fit in the timing for such a move.
Keeping the 15 aircraft around gives United a bit of breathing room before it has to decide what to do for a replacement of the 757-200s in the fleet. The transcon routes are relatively low burden for the frames (as opposed to a bunch of short hops) so squeezing the extra life out of them shouldn’t be too hard, though the costs for the fire suppression are not trivial. Back in 2012 UPS protested the need to retrofit its planes, citing a 2010 cost of $323k per aircraft and a tremendously low risk factor. The FAA didn’t bite on that, though.
Having the extra planes, particularly as the 777-200s are being converted to add lie-flat seats and being loaded on to hub-to-hub routes could help the company keep up with Delta and JetBlue as they grow transcon flat-bed service. United already is planning to compete on that front in the San Francisco – Boston market as JetBlue brings Mint to the market and Delta also introducing flat beds on that route. Could the plan to keep these planes in the fleet longer mean more domestic routes with flat beds? Seems like there’s a decent chance that we could see more flat-bed routes with these planes sticking around.
As to replacements for the 757-200, United is arguably keen to get the theoretical new Boeing Middle of Market plane into the fleet but it would likely not enter service for 5+ years yet (and more likely 7+ if I had to bet). And that’s assuming it is announced very soon. Keeping the extra 15 752s around helps bridge that gap. Especially as the specific mission profiles the 752 is used on aren’t all necessarily met by the A321LRs.
Header image: A United Airlines 757-200 at Las Vegas via Flickr CC-SA
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