Why airline pilots love flying the Boeing 757

Airline pilots enjoy flying the Boeing 757. But how long will the airplane last. Photo: Delta.

Airline pilots enjoy flying the Boeing 757. But how long will the airplane last. Photo: Delta.

If you ask major airlines what their favorite aircraft is to fly, you'll almost always get the same answer: The Boeing 757. 

Boeing designed the twin-engine aircraft in the early 1980s to fly short-and medium-haul routes, almost as a replacement for the Boeing 727, which had three engines and was far less efficient.

But Boeing overbuilt the aircraft, giving it far more power than it needed for flights from New York to Chicago.  Eventually, airlines realized that they could do more with the aircraft, and in the past 15 years U.S. carriers have increasingly deployed them across the Atlantic from major East Coast cities.  But the 757s still fly plenty of short-haul routes. 

Last week, when visiting LAX, I chatted with Capt. Bob Raleigh, American Airlines' chief pilot here. Now a Boeing 777 captain, Raleigh hasn't flown the 757 regularly in many years. But he still speaks of it wistfully. 

"It's a sport car airplane," Raleigh said. "It really is. It has unlimited power. It's overpowered. It's overbuilt. It's a great airplane. Boeing did real well with that jet. It's a shame for there not to be a replacement."

That's the problem for American and its competitors. Boeing stopped producing the 757 in 2005, selling the 1,050th airplane to Shanghai Airlines. In a sense, Boeing didn't realize what it had, as the airplane has gotten even more popular in recent years, with more carriers using it for much longer missions.  It may be overbuilt for shorter hauls, but it's just right for flights between Newark, New Jersey and Hamburg, Germany. 

Neither Airbus nor Boeing has an obvious replacement for the 757, and if you have been following the news recently, you know that both manufacturers have been considering making a new aircraft that fills the 757s niche. 

Airbus appears a bit ahead in the game, according to recent reports. But don't count Boeing out just yet.