An Update From Paris: Airbus Puts Lipstick on Its A380 While Boeing Keeps Stretching Its 737

737, A380, Airbus, Aircraft, Boeing

This week is the Paris Air Show, the pinnacle of the air show circuit (alternating with Farnborough every other year). It’s usually an opportunity for aircraft manufacturers to shine by revealing a slew of orders along with future development plans. This year, those order books are somewhat lighter, especially on the widebody side. So it’s the future development that’s been making the most news.

The A380plus

Airbus is making waves on the bigger end of the spectrum with a package of improvements to try to salvage the A380 as a viable aircraft going forward. Orders for the A380 have been anemic since the beginning, at best, with only Emirates preventing a complete and total financial disaster for the company. Of the 317 ordered, Emirates is responsible for 142 of them. And though there are still 100 airplanes left to be delivered, many of those seem to be on shaky ground. There hasn’t been a new order since 2015 and the production line is being slowed to stretch it out as much as possible.

With that backdrop, doesn’t it sound like the end is near? Nobody would have faulted Airbus for calling it quits, except maybe for Emirates, but Airbus has chosen a different path. It’s as if it looked at the airplane, figured out a few cheap tweaks it could make, and then decided to give it one more push before raising the the white flag. With that “winning” recipe in place, we now have a plan for the A380plus. There’s no commitment to actually building it right now, but with these changes, Airbus hopes it can get enough airlines onboard to get the program off life support. It’s a twist on the old saying… if they come, Airbus will build it.

So what is this upgrade? It’s really just a combination of two things. First, there are new fancy-looking winglets along with “wing refinements” that result in a 4 percent fuel burn savings. Then there are the interior changes that were released earlier this year which effectively allow Airbus to stuff more passengers in the airplane. The bottom deck will see room for 11 seats across in coach (think 3-5-3) instead of 10. These two things mashed together result in a 13 percent reduction in cost per seat, depending upon configuration, of course.

Lower cost is always nice, but that’s never been the main problem with the airplane. It’s just too big. Now Airbus is effectively making it bigger (in terms of capacity), so how is that going to be more attractive? It won’t.

Those who already believe in the airplane may like this, and maybe it will convince some of the less firm orders to stick around. But I find it hard to believe it’s going to sway any new airlines to place an order. I can’t recall anyone saying, “gee, if only it could hold 80 more people, then we’d be interested.”

For what it’s worth, Airbus’s main A380 customer, Emirates, isn’t impressed. It will undoubtedly change its tune quickly if a rush of new orders comes in making it a more sustainable aircraft in the future, but that seems unlikely to happen with this enhancement alone.

The 737 MAX 10

Boeing has started talking more about a “middle of the market” aircraft to fall between the 737 and 787 families, but despite some buzz this week, we’re not there yet. Instead, the biggest tangible news was about Boeing following a time-honored tradition of stretching the crap out of its 737 family. Boeing officially rolled out the 737 MAX 10, the 10th and biggest iteration of the 50-year old aircraft.

It’s incredible to think that this airplane is nearly double the size of the old 737-100 in terms of passenger capacity. It’s hard to believe these airplanes are even related, but sure enough, that old fuselage cross-section is the same, as are many other characteristics. Oh sure, plenty is different, as you’d hope considering it’s been 50 years, but it’s still just Boeing being Boeing (or Boeing being McDonnell Douglas) and trying to tweak an existing airplane as much as humanly possible to serve every need.

What need does this serve besides providing a long racetrack for toilet paper rolling down the aisle? Well it’s suppose to be Boeing’s competitor to the A321neo. They have roughly the same number of seats and, according to Boeing, the MAX 10 will have a 5 percent lower operating cost per seat than the A321neo. There’s a lot of sniping back and forth about which will have more range, but the bottom line is that if you need the range, the Airbus A321LR will win. That’s the closest thing we have to a 757 replacement today, though it’s been very hard to find anything to replace the 757.

After just a few days, the 737 MAX 10 has hundreds of orders, but don’t let the marketing fluff fool you. Many of those are just converted orders that were previously for a different version of the airplane. United, for example, made a splash by converting 100 orders for the 737 MAX 9 into orders for the MAX 10 instead.

The common thread here is that there really wasn’t anything overly exciting. Airbus is trying to revive its giant while Boeing is just trying to fill out its product line with another stretch of an already overly-stretched airplane. The more exciting discussion is about what the future may hold for a new clean-sheet aircraft, especially in that middle-of-the-market size. But despite the hype, there’s really very little to discuss… yet.

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55 comments on “An Update From Paris: Airbus Puts Lipstick on Its A380 While Boeing Keeps Stretching Its 737

    1. Well the “A321XLR” is also (Airbus being McDonnell Douglas) more or less, by trying to squeeze as much range out of the A321 as possible. So Both Airbus and Boeing are being McDonnell Douglas now.

      Boeing were desperate to get something out to fight the A321neo and are finally able to do so with the 737 Max-10, while Airbus are desperately trying to squeeze all that range out of the A321 and A321neo after they knew about Boeing’s Seven Ninety-Seven.

  1. LOL @ the 737. I’m with you. How long are they going to push and tweak and milk that thing? One day will we be seeing the 737-MAX10-Classic-NG-200A-ER-V2?

  2. there’s still something inherently cool about flying on a giant plane. i haven’t had the chance to fly on an A380, but i would like to. i’ll be on my first 747 (lufthansa) since the late 90s next month, and, even for someone with over 1000 flights, that still makes me grin.

    1. I have flown on it, with Korean Air. It’s a very nice, very smooth ride, and the way they have it outfitted it’s very comfortable too. But it’s a lot of effort to stuff the thing to the gills, and not as many gates and runways can accomodate it. I think it’s those two things that are actually making it expensive and therefore killing it.

    2. I flew it on Lufthansa and found it also to be a nice, smooth ride…takeoff was a real thrill. On approach to Frankfurt it even handled a lightening strike with ease!

  3. One can only hope they decided to add a 4th lavatory…the two in the back would be a “stretch!”

  4. Nice rendering of the Max 10 – looks fairly accurate to me. Having sat in the back of a few 737-9’s (and A321’s for that matter) I think the limits of how long you want a single aisle aircraft have been reached. The 757 has the often overlooked benefit of the L2 door being used for boarding & deplaning. Don’t underestimate the value of that and how much it speeds up the turns. Shame on Boeing for not creating a proper 757 replacement.

  5. One thing I’ve never understood…

    Why was there no modernization and elongation program for the 757? Airbus did that with the 320/321/neo/LR etc. and Boeing continues to do that for the 737 despite that being an older and less sophisticated airframe.

    And now the big need in the market is a 757 replacement? Since Airbus basically did that by updating its 320/321 series, I’ll never understand why Boeing didn’t modernize the 757. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be talking replacement and they surely wouldn’t have to keep stretching these 737s!

    Was there something about the 737 that, despite being older, made it more practical to modernize and enlarge than the 757? I know the 757 had a lot of commonality with the 767, was it just too much airplane for the passenger loads it carried?

      1. Yes! Please consider answering it as a full post, even. I don’t understand why there is so much chatter about how well the 757 filled a unique niche (and airlines delaying 757 retirement dates), but no actual business case to update or replace it.

    1. Bill – Well there was an elongation program and a stupid one at that. That resulted in the 757-300 which sacrificed range for capacity, a time-honored tradition for aircraft manufacturers. While a few people liked it and it still flies today on some routes like those to Hawai’i, it was a failure. Boeing mis-judged the market.

      We have to think about what was going on at the time the death of the 757 was announced in 2003. There wasn’t any demand for it. Airlines weren’t trying to fly a 757 on longer distances, and instead, they were just looking at 737s to replace 757s on shorter-haul services. The value of the 757 wasn’t really realized until later on, after it was a done deal that it was going to end. (Remember, they need every inch of the former 757 manufacturing space in Renton for the 737s now.)

      As the airlines started to get more and more angry about not having a true 757 replacement, it was determined that just upgrading the old 757 wasn’t the right plan. Now we’re talking about a clean-sheet design, which is the right way to go. But it’s just going to take forever.

      1. If you take a 737, lengthen it, put in larger engines and a taller undercarriage to accommodate the engines and length, and then make corresponding changes in the wings and tail, wouldn’t you basically get a 757?

  6. Will the additional seat capacity on these planes require Airbus and/or Boeing to add any additional emergency exits or conduct any additional “live” (with humans, not computer models) evacuations?

    As for the A380, why weren’t these options available when the aircraft was initially launched? It doesn’t seem like they would be THAT complex relative to the engineering required in developing the whole plane, and the 4% fuel savings (if true) may be significant.

    Finally, 11-across seating in coach would be enough to make me think twice about flying on an A380plus, That’s 5/11 seats that are not window or aisle, and sounds like it would feel very claustrophobic unless the interior designers play some really neat tricks.

    1. Looks like the MAX 10 will have the same exit config as the MAX 9 – two overwing exits plus a door behind the wing in addition to the front and rear exits.

      The winglet work on the A380 probably wasn’t understood back then to be as beneficial as it is. Just think about the evolution of winglets in the last 20 years. Manufacturers have learned a lot.

      1. Hey Cranky, are you certain Max 9 and 10 have “a door behind the wing in addition to the front and rear exits[?]”

        Description seems more akin to 757-300.

        1. Hey – I’m just looking at the photos. That’s different from the 757 which has two doors in front of the wing.

  7. I’ve been waiting on this post. When I first saw the 737-10 I just facepalmed. And then I started to wonder how many more stretches they could do until the pilot could no longer rotate the plane without striking the tail. Or maybe their aim is to have 777 capacity in a 737 airframe. In all seriousness. I think it was in incredibly dumb move to not revamp the 757. Airlines are doing everything they can to stretch the life of them and the ones that do switch want a replacement for the long and thin routes and that is the A321LR hands down.

  8. The 739’s already have tail strike issues, and need the same amount of runway as a A330. They’re practically going to need training wheels added if they stretch it any further. I agree with another post, no clue why they don’t break out the 757 and update the avionics. I understand it didn’t sell well during it’s run, but it was just a bit a head of it’s time. A plane that needs very little runway, but has the legs for East Coast to Europe, and West Coast to Hawaii! Seems like a no brainer to update the engines, winglets, and avionics, and roll it out in 2-3 years instead of the 5-8 a white sheet airplane will take

    1. I predict a new strategy for avoiding tail strikes in the Max-10. They will design the underside of the fuselage to start sloping up dramatically, starting right behind the wing. Naturally, the cabin floor will start sloping upward too. Airlines will assign seats by height. Row 20: max height 6’0″. Row 21: max height 5’11”, etc. This will result in all the kids being in the back of the plane, which will *ensure* the popularity of the design.

  9. And then there’s the rumored “replacement” for the 757, which is being unofficially called the “797”. Not only will it be many years before this a/c is even available, but it’s a twin-aisle aircraft as well. What the heck is Boeing doing? The demand is for SINGLE AISLE aircraft. And the real need is for one that has the range, size and muscle of the 757. Not a mini-787. Not a super stretched 737. And why didn’t they just make gradual improvements to the 757 in the first place? Dropping that line was about the dumbest thing they have ever done. Except for the “797”, if the rumors are true.

    1. I’ve often wondered why Boeing doesn’t get to work on a “757-X.” Start with the old 757 fuselage, and add new engines and new (composite) wings. It could be ready much sooner than a clean-sheet-of-paper design, and would be much cheaper too.

    2. stogieguy7 – The demand isn’t for single or double aisle aircraft at all. The demand is for a certain capacity with a certain range. If Boeing thinks it can make it more efficient using a twin aisle, then that’s great news for all of us because it’ll be more comfortable.

      1. Then I guess the question would be whether the “797” would have the same sorts of flight capabilities as the 757. I’ve talked with AA and UA crews on Latin American runs who told me that – for years – there were certain stations that the airline would only allow to be served by the 757, for safety reasons. Tegucigalpa comes to mind as one. It had to do with the sheer performance of that aircraft – which is/was outstanding. Not to mention the range it has. If the 797 can match that, great. But that would be more challenging to do with a 2-aisle aircraft, I would think..

      2. Why do you think a twin aisle is going to be more comfortable? I have flown across the pond on 757s and to Hawaii on 737s (and of course also on all types of wide bodies). Ultimately the seat space (width, pitch, cushion, …) is what matters the most to me. A second aisle makes little difference if there are twice as many people trying to use the two aisles :)

        1. Oliver – Well, we don’t know details yet, but presumably it will be a narrower twin aisle (or else it will be incredibly stubby). So that means more people with aisle seats in each row and hopefully a configuration that is better for people traveling in groups with even numbers of people. (3-3 ain’t great for a lot of couples and families.) Two aisles also means that one cart doesn’t block you in, more ways to maneuver to get to the lavs.
          Again, we don’t know the layout yet, but chances are good that a twin aisle will be more comfortable in this size category.

          1. Granted, two seats by the window are better than three.

            But if there is one cart in the aisle, chances are pretty good there is another one in the second aisle. They seem to always run service in both aisles in parallel.

  10. The 737-900 already has issues with hot and high airports. It requires a very long takeoff roll in order to get up to the proper velocity for takeoff. The 737-10 is going to be even worse.

    I wish Boeing would admit they made a mistake dumping the 757 and would bring an updated version of that plane back. It was bigger and had much more powerful engines.

    1. southbay – This isn’t a 737-1000. It’s a MAX, so presumably many of the hot and high issues will be somewhat resolved with these much better engines.

      1. I guess I have no faith in Boeing. I’ve been on a the 737-900 taking off out of SLC and I really don’t like rolling for 2 miles before achieving the needed velocity when a 757 can do it in about half as much runway. I remember hearing from a pilot that the MAX did require some design changes to the landing gear in order to raise the height of the plane from the ground in order to use a larger engine. Maybe there will be some extra power, but I’m not too hopeful on that.

  11. It’s always seems to be: “This is what our customers want!” Is there any polling data out there that actually shows that this or that is what customers really want or prefer, given various types of routes?

    Of course, what does consumer preference have to do with anything these days when everything seems to come down to: “all consumers care about is price,” and the airlines then taking the position that, OK then “all we care about is cost–doing it ourselves, in our own planes or simply kicking the problem down the road to those crazy regionals or whatever, who’ll do if for us for whatever price we demand. And, what with the concentration in this industry today, is anything going to change?

    1. jaybru – Just look at the orders. There are more than 200 orders for the MAX 10 so clearly someone wants it.

      1. 100+ of them would have been MAX 9 orders… assuming UA would have stuck with that order. So presumably just very incremental revenue.

    2. You have to remember that we are not the customer in this case. The airline is the customer and they are looking at something to help with their profitability.

      Most consumers really don’t care or even know what type of plane they are on. Most consumers buy solely on price.

  12. Boeing could have made a killing if they had made a revised version of the 757, the idiots at doing wanted the 787 instead and the 737 is going to end up looking like a 757…..Im very curious to know if Boeing had redesigned the 757, how many airlines would have bought that instead of the A321…..the airlines love the 757 and wanted a new one but Boeing ignored them and worked on the 787 and new 737’s…..I could have seen Ryanair and Norweigen ordering them in my opinion…..Boeing lost tons of money because they wanted something other than a new 757… muck more can a 737 be stretched…..would love to see a modern day 727 with all the improvements that have come along…..

  13. I agree with what others have said about the 757, it should still be around in an updated form. I think Boeing knows it screwed up ending the 757 and is trying to not admit it by talking up other type aircraft no one really wants or needs.

      1. They have plenty of people who can spin it as needed. It’s called marketing.

        Also keep in mind that Boeing doesn’t sell to consumers and geeks. If they felt they made a mistake canning the 757 *and* also thought the right decision now was to create a 757-MAX, they’d do that. But they don’t. I have to believe they have better information about the cost, time and possible market opportunities of such an aircraft than a bunch of armchair aircraft designers and salespeople :)

        (now, if you will excuse me, I’ll go into hiding after insulting half the audience… and yes, I like flying the 757-200, too)

        1. You’re safe… CF isn’t a sports site. But the “experts” in this industry have sometimes been spectacularly wrong. Consider the Concorde: engineering triumph, aesthetic delight, financial disaster. Or the way Airbus overestimated the market for the A380. Or Boeing’s massive outsourcing of 787 components, which delayed the aircraft’s debut for years.
          And a NMA powerpoint slide from the Paris show seemed like really dumb PR; it read “Deliberate, Disciplined and Driven.” I could imagine the airline people in the room thinking, “yeah, you certainly are deliberate on this, Boeing.. we don’t see the ‘driven’ part, though.”

          1. Sure, but the “experts” here don’t have any skin in the game and no measurable track record :)

            I am not saying that companies never make mistakes. They often do. I am also not saying that non-insiders never get things right. Of course, they do.

            But these types of decisions don’t get made made based on gut feeling and not wanting to admit mistakes made by prior leadership (different CEO at Boeing when 757 was shelved, I think?). There are careers at stake. I am sure they look at the numbers carefully.

  14. Honestly Boeing needs to bring back whatever the equivalent of the 757 will be, call it 797,757-400 whatever, its clear they having nothing in that market segment and continuing the stretch the 737 without adding enough to the range does nothing there.

    1. He mentioned another factor that airline managers don’t care about, but we airline fans do: the 757 is beautiful!
      But can someone explain what gave the 757 its exceptional performance? Is it “overpowered”? Does it have more wing surface area, in relation to its weight, compared to the 737 or A321?

    2. An excellent article by Cap’t Smith! It says everything that I’ve been trying express here – in a far more convincing way that I could…..

  15. This should be titled “Most uncomfortable aircraft ever.” We just spent a miserable 4 hours in a UA 737-900 from IAD to DEN and it took forever to get airborne and then was super uncomfortable for the rest of the flight.

    My days riding USAF 123’s and 130’s in side facing net seats was worse but not by much.

  16. Two comments!
    First – The A380 hasn’t been a huge success because of it lacks the ability to carry freight. In fact, Singapore doesn’t even offer freight on their A380. The belly space of an A380 is equal to a 777-200, but carries double the passengers. Note, the 777-300 has had a huge impact on the freighter market, especially in Asia, with 44 LD3 position capacity. That equates up to 8 pallets of freight per flight, on a full load. With the multi-frequency flights each day, an airline can almost equal the freight capacity of a freighter everyday. Without this ability, and the reliance on premium traffic to make money, the A380 was almost doomed from the start.

    Second – The 737 is probably the most miserable plane to fly on period. I would rather fly an E-145 (and the possibility of a single seat), than fly at 737 for up to 6 hours or more. Who ever would have thought 737s would be flying to Hawaii, let alone the backbone of the fleet from the West Coast! I will continue to look for A320 family aircraft when I book my flights!

  17. Great post, Cranky. While I’m with you and what seems like most of the other posters in questioning just how much more Boeing can push the venerable 737 frame, I would imagine that the numerous teething issues with the 787 has scared management off of moving too quickly on clean sheet designs.

  18. I’d give the A380 two out of three.

    As a commercial product. Fail. It won’t turn a profit most likely.

    As something that killed Boeing’s B747 cash cow. Win. That lost cash flow could have replaced the B737 with a A320 killer. It didn’t, so the A380 ensured that Airbus A320 is the cash cow.

    As a customer experience, Win. I’ve travelled in the Thai and Emirates A380. Great customer experience.

    1. The 777 is the plane that actually killed the 747. Once the 777 was approved for Polar ETOPS, that killed any plane with more than two engines.

  19. From my view as someone not in the US, the 757s were really popular amongst US airlines but not other airlines. We hardly ever saw 757s in other parts of the world.

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