Sharks and jets

Aviation, like any other business, requires that you stay close to your customers, to understand their wants and needs - while at the same time always keeping your eye on the competition.

So I’ve been watching recently as Airbus has become more aggressive, a little bolder, both in their positioning vs. Boeing and in what they’re saying about themselves

One of their recent marketing thrusts has been around “sharklets” for the A320 family, and along with that what I find interesting is that Airbus is positioning the A321 as a potential replacement for the 757.

Why is that interesting? Because the best possible 757 replacement already exists - the 737-900ER (Extended Range).


The 737-900ER: Clearly the most capable 757 replacement airplane.

The Airbus “sharklet” is a wingtip device, a lot like our Blended Winglets, that allows them to improve the performance and efficiency of the airplane.

By the way, Blended Winglets entered service on the Next-Generation 737 back in 2001 - but more about that later.

First, let’s do a comparison:

  • 737-900ER and A321 are about the same size - 180 passengers in a standard two-class configuration for the -900ER vs. 183 for the A321.
  • 737-900ER has a max. range of 3,265 nmi vs. 3,055 for the A321.
  • A321 is nearly 10% heavier, and consumes 4-5% more fuel per seat.
  • A321 is 7-8% more expensive to operate per-trip, 5-6% more expensive to operate per-seat/mile, and it’s less reliable.

So, the 737-900ER is virtually the same size, yet travels farther for less fuel and less money and does it more reliably.

Note that only with the addition of these new winglets can the A321 even approach the 737-900ER, and it still needs to play catch-up in range and efficiency.

I will say that I felt a bit nostalgic when I saw the Airbus “sharklet” pitch. It reminded me of the marketing materials we pulled together almost a decade ago on Blended Winglets for our airplanes.

Which brings me to the differences between the winglets on our airplanes vs. theirs. First and foremost, the winglets provided by Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) have now been in service for more than 10 years. They’ve proven their performance in operation.

APB estimates that our winglets have already saved the industry 2 billion gallons of jet fuel. The other guys won’t be able to start delivering performance improvements for another couple of years.

Second, unlike the Airbus offering, winglets are available both on new production Boeing airplanes and on an aftermarket basis, so all of the Next-Generation 737 airplanes can benefit. In fact, winglets are also now flying on the 757 and 767 to improve their performance as well.

So, too bad if you own one of the more than 4,290 A320 family aircraft already delivered - no winglets for you!

One final point - as our competition tries to catch up, we continue to move forward and evolve.

Don’t forget, later this year we’ll be delivering new interiors on the Next-Generation 737. And next year and into early 2012 we make improvements to the aerodynamics of the airplane as well as engine upgrades for a 2% improvement in fuel burn.

So if you think the Airbus sharks are gonna have their way over the Boeing jets you probably also believe in fish stories!

Comments (27)

Andrew (Seattle, WA):

The facts about both aircraft don't lie, yet Airbus seems to be expanding their market share... Boeing builds such a solid product; can't Boeing counter with some more aggressive marketing of its own?


Good on you Randy. Airbus has always had planes "That fly further faster and better than Boeing." It is nice to see you answering back. The 737 is a wonderful aircraft and as for the new Boeing aircraft about to enter service I for one can't wait.

Vero Venia (Montreal, Canada):

So, according to your figures, in 2012 the range of the 737-900ER will increase to 3,330 nm. With a reasonable cabin configuration, it can perform flights from West-coast to East-coast.
It's simple, there's nothing fishy there.

Kinbin (Taipei Taiwan):

My personal experiences with both Boeing and Airbus aircraft leads me to the following personal conclusions on the 739ER and A321-Sharklets.

1. Boeing builds a comparative superior aircraft in quality and performance. The observed rate of wear / tear and degradation with time is distinct, with the B737NG series yielding a lower life sustainment cost.

2. The A321 will always end up cheaper than the B739ER after massive discounts by both entities time and time again, compliments of EU subsidies. Many airlines are looking towards one-time short term gains in lower capital outflows in aircraft procurement. Its easier to get past corporate big-wigs and place them on better standing with stakeholders.

It ain't different from buying cars. German cars are reputable for great engineering, ride, reliability, and performance. I enjoy one in my ride to the office daily. They come though at a cost relative higher than US, Japanese, and Korean domestic in the US. One will never see the sales volumes of German cars matching the said 3 national labels.

Many a folk will continue to buy cheaper Brand X.

Steven (UK):

Right so all the airlines who ordered Airbuses are stupid that they cant conjure-up such simple logic, jeez no wonder the US Economy is so great these days.

John V. (PA):


Great works to keep all of us informed. I am very glad for the straight comparison. Facts and data do NOT lie. However, Airbus does have a competitive advatange over Boeing: Government subsidize and great sale personalities as I have watched several European top government officials pitched for their products during their diplomatic trips.

We need more agressive marketing for our products because unfortunately, facts and data may NOT sell planes.

Please keep up the good work, we are very proud of Boeing.

James Baloun (Palo Alto, Ca.):

I am told that the 757 has a lower OEW (operating empty weight) than other airplanes per passenge-mile or per ton-mile. Less dead-weight is less fuel burn is more profit for the operator and less environmental impact.

In addition the 757 winglet modification is worth the cost and weight because the 757 wing can be efficiently and economically adapted to take the increased load. The only way to carry the load and go the distance with a low OEW is if the aircraft design is correct and efficient (you also have to have a good engine).

The 757 designers had to hit the target structurally, aerodynamically, and in its systems. Just like your bathroom scale when you step out of the shower, for airplanes the OEW numbers don't lie. The 737-900ER is filling some big shoes here. It is too bad the Boeing family out-grew the 757 because it was one of the best. Hopefully when the 787 technology (or better) is handed down to the 737/757 replacement, Boeing can again hit the target!

Airbus shoots for better. Boeing shoots for best.

Josh (Huntsville, AL):

Great info Randy!

The 3300+nm # is an important # indeed for replacing the great 757 workhorse on one of its most profitable routes...the short transatlantic flights (NY/Boston/DC to London/Paris). I'm sure this a very critical # when accounting for add'l few and headwind requirements.

There are several city pairs that the A321 won't be able to match for transatlantic flights between NA & Europe (LHR-LGA/JFK/BOS/BWI, CDG-JFK/LGA/BOS and several more)

Additionally, several routes on the Indian Sub-Continent will be beyond reach (DEL-NRT/AGB/NBO to name a few).

Grace Feng Hsu (Kirkland, WA):

Randy: Very good comparison. Would you translate the % difference into money savings per airplane per year and also per average lifespan of each airplane. Also how much is the cost of the 2 billion gallons of jet fuel at today's price? How much is the forcasted fuel cost savings in 10 years & 20 years? This should be part of the total life time cost for each airplane, even Airbus has been giving them huge discount. Thank you, Randy! Keep the good fighting spirit! Never give up!

Syed Kadri (Houston, Texas, USA):

Thanks for the 'Winglets 101' I learnt something from this post. Also the comparison of the one's made by the competitor helped. I notice the winglets on Airbus aircraft have a bottom piece also, whereas ours just curls up, what is the significance of that.

Freddy (Everett, WA):

Great review Randy letting the facts speak for themselves. I like your pragmatic points about proven 10 years of service for the blended winglets. The proof is in the pudding.

Seapapa (USA):

How is it possible that the two aircraft are "about the same size"? The length of the passenger cabin on the 737-900ER is 107.3 ft while the A321 is 113.0 ft. That would accommodate 2 full rows of passengers. Neither aircraft matches the 757 cabin (118.5 ft) or range (4,100 nm), so both are unlikely to be real replacements.

jzijlstra (belgium):

Is it correct the A321 (without winglets) carries the 737-900ER's maximum payload roughly 1000NM further?


Scott (Seattle, wa):

While I agree that Boeing builds a far superior product over airbus. In terms of winglets, doesn't the A320 family have small winglets, those triangle shaped devices on the end of the wings? Are those for performance or apperance only? It would be interesting to see the performance differences with the current winglets.

Vero Venia (Montreal, Canada):

I think the 787-8 takes over a big part of the 757's role.

Richard M (New South Wales):

Great photo, writing and humour Randy !

Like Scott and Syed, I am also interested to see a performance comparison of Boeing versus Airbus winglets.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

The 737-900ER has a greater range over the A321 and a better ETOPS range over any one aircraft of the A320 family but the 757 stands alone in narrow body range and capacity. The 737-900ER will be the most viable 757 replacement in the US transcontinental market and West Coast to Hawaii markets. The 737-900ER is smaller than the 757 but the market is more competitive than before.

A true 757 replacement may be necessary over the next 10 to 15 years as the current fleets of 757s get old and become in need of a replacement. The 757 replacement should be a part of a larger scale 737 replacement in the intermediate future as the demand for aircraft with the range and capacity of the 757 will not be as great as the aircraft it will replace. A true successor will be primarily used on the West Coast and Mountain States to Hawaii, North East to Western Europe and the East Coast to the Caribbean.

Thomas Horstmann (Portland, Oregon):

Great comments! I especially like "So, too bad if you own one of the more than 4,290 A320 family aircraft already delivered - no winglets for you!"

Downright funny while at the same time, honest.

J (France):

Here is another fact:
737-900ER: 5 operators, 12 customers, 252 orders
A321: 75 operators, 83 operators, 830 orders

Jimmy (London):

Randy seeing as so you so good with calculating fuel figures can you calculate this one for me?

Airbus have made as you mention about 4,290 A320 family aircraft of which all but 20 or so have been fitted with wing tip fences as standard from the day they were built, the first over 20 years ago.

These devices clearly offer fuel savings over aircraft without them. Now only the NG generation 737's can have the blended wingtips fitted, so what is the fuel savings all these 4270 A320 family aircraft made compared to the similarly large fleet of 737's that don't have blended wingtips?

Would love to know the answer....

The point anyway is the new wing tips on the A321 are in improvement over what they already have. So a bit misleading going around making like they don't already have something that does the job.

PS as for the 757, great plane, one of my favourites, the way I see it neither the 737-900 or A321 will ever be able to match it.

Chris C (South Africa):

Randy, could you perhaps clarify a few points here for me, thanks?
You’ve indicated that the Airbus A321 has a maximum range of 3,055nm. Yet, Airbus’ website highlights very different figures for sharklet-equipped and non sharklet-equipped winglet airplanes.

A brief square-off of the sharklet-equipped winglet A320 family and Blended Winglet 737NG reveals the following:

A318: (107pax/two-class config.) 3,700nm range [1,800nm without the sharklets]
737-600: (110pax/two class config.) 3,225nm range.

A319: (124pax/two-class config.) 3,700nm range [1,800nm without the sharklets]
737-700: (126pax/two-class config) 3,440nm range

A320: (150pax/two-class config.) 3,300nm range [2,600nm without sharklets]
737-800: (162pax/two-class config.) 3,115nm range.

A321: (185pax/two-class config.) 3,200nm range [2,350nm without sharklets]
737-900ER: (180pax/two-class config.) 3,265nm

I’m not sure on Airbus’ website if the lower range values are for maximum passengers in single class config, but either way, they’re displaying range advantages over the 737NG, and the A321 has more range than you’ve indicated above. I’m just curious as to which figure, either 3,055nm with sharklets or 3,200nm with sharklets is correct, thanks. Perhaps Airbus’ website is in-correct, or I’ve miss-read it somewhat, but I can’t believe that sharklets will boost the A319 range by 2,000nm.

Either way, both the A321 or 737-900ER will have a tough time being a “true”, and “most-capable” 757 replacement airplane. A 787-8 would possibly be a more comparative airplane there.

Steve (Siggenthal Station, Switzerland):

Here are some more facts:

A321 Introduced 1994
(competition; 757 and later 737-900 and 900ER)

737-900ER Introduced Aug 2006
(competition; A321, and 757 replacement)

A321s delivered 1994 to 2010 = 613 Total
757s delivered 1982 to 2005 = 1050 ( 467 since the 1994 A321 Intro)
737-900s delivered 2001 to 2005 = 52
737-900ERs delivered 2007 to 2010 = 75

Total Boeing aircraft delivered in the "A321 market segment" = 1177 vs 613 for the A321

And by the way, 970 of the 757s were still flying as of 2009 and they have rather good resale value.

Rob ( Canada) (Vancouver B.C. Canada):

After reading the comments on this topic and doing some research from the Boeing website on the 787, 757 & 737 900ER along with the A321. The debate on the most suitable replacement for the 757 would seem to be the 787-8 as suggested by a couple of your readers.

Head to head the 737-900ER has an edge over the A321. But neither fall into the catergory as perfect replacement for the 757.

737-900ER / A321 ( sharklets) - in the 3200 nm range. 180 / 183 pax.
L - 138 / 146

757-200 - 3900 nm. 228 pax.
L - 155

757-300 - 3400 nm. 243 pax.
L- 178

Nm range, pax numbers (2 clas conf.) for the 737 / A321 still fall short of the 757.

787-8 - 7600 - 8200 nm - 210 -250 pax
L- 186.

On paper the 787-8 would be the closet replacement? Not knowing the industry criteria for picking replacement aircraft. Is the 787-8 too expensive, list price 161- 171 m over a 737-ER900 at 76-87 m? The 787-8 would be more fuel effecient and comfortable as a twin aisle.

The only other 757 fact I couldn't find was the number of 200 & 300 series in service and if the operators prefered distance or number of passengers on their airliners. That might shed some light was to what type of aircraft they would want to repalce their 757's with.

Randy what did Boeing envision as a replacement for those 1,050 757's?

Enjoy reading all the comments, it must be nice to know that you have so many informed readers on the industry.

FF (Scotland):

Interesting analysis, Randy. On the face of it, the 737-900ER is an excellent plane. I genuinely don't know why it hasn't sold in larger numbers.

And that's the awkward fact. Airbus has sold more of the supposedly inferior A321 than Boeing has of the 737-900ER since the latter plane went on the market (70% of which is destined for a single Indonesian customer). It's going to be tricky if Airbus improves the A321 by adding winglets/sharklets, The 737 can't be improved to the same extent because it's already got them.

Jun Leido (Manila, Philippines):

Randy - from a technical view, both the 737 and A320 are engineering and design marvels, which we should credit to the people who worked on them - wherever side of the world you are building them. The 737 is a pioneer, which showed everyone that a small airplane can be a big business. The A320 extended on that great idea and has made a legacy on its own.

From a passenger experience, I think the A320 is a " bigger " narrow-body; weird as it may be, since I know the 737 and 757 fuselages are the same, the latter feels bigger. And the A320 cabin is bigger, even than that of the 757. I know what you're thinking - that there is a perception of space and the like; I factor all that. Still, the A320 feels like a bigger plane, maybe because it is an incrementally-larger aircraft.

I think the new interior NG 737 will make a huge impact on the flying population. we're waiting on this.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

This is a nice can of worms - well done for tackling it.

Still think neither is a true replacement for the 757. The market for a 757 category aircraft was probably only about 1,000 units before you started talking about replacing it.

But the 737-900ER is a massively impressive rework of the 737-900. And a worthy competitor to the A321-200.

Carey (New Zealand):

Come on people you forgot to mention IMAGE.

737 looks slim, sleek and styly. A321 looks fat and slugish.

Appearance is everything.

Post a comment

We welcome your comments. However all comments are moderated and may not post immediately. Offensive or off-topic comments will not be posted. We will not treat any comments you submit as confidential information. Please do not submit comments that contain any confidential information belonging to anyone else.

By submitting a comment to Randy's Journal, you agree to our site terms and privacy policy, and to having your name displayed with your comment. All or part of your comment may be posted or cited in the blog. Your name and personal information will not be used for any other purpose, and we will not publish your e-mail address.


More posts