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THIS WEEK, Airbus revealed that they are investigating the possibility of adding an overwing emergency exit that would boost the A321neo seating plan to a maximum of 235 passengers, straight in the territory of the currently unrivalled, but ageing, B757-200.

With over 800 aircraft still in service twenty years after the first delivery, the venerable Boeing 757 has more than proven its worth in commercial aviation. Airbus and Boeing have, until seemingly recently, been reluctant to provide a suitable replacement, deeming the airliner to be too operationally specific to replace effectively.

The Boeing 757 has held the unique of capability of trans-continental range as a result of shared architecture with its larger sibling, the B767. This virtue has not been passed on to newer generation narrowbodies, namely the A320neo and B737MAX, forcing current operators to modify and compromise their operational capabilities as they look to replace their fleets of B757s. While the latest aircraft families are hugely more efficient, they lack the range and capacity of the B757.

Note: 5E refers to the A321 with five pairs of emergency exits.

Note: 5E refers to the A321 with five pairs of emergency exits.

The A321neo will enjoy a higher MTOW, increased thrust and greater range as part of the Airbus narrowbody makeover, tackling the exact issues that have prevented the current sub-type from B757-style success. Most carriers have identified their future narrowbody fleets, however should a fifth exit be signed off, a large number of order conversions may occur.

The latest developments surrounding the A321neo suggests that B757 operators may finally have a more capable replacement. Current range and performance limitations have prevented carriers from employing more efficient B737NG and A320ceo aircraft on B757 flights, particularly trans-Atlantic routes from Eastern coast of the USA as well as numerous European charter airlines. The forecasted improvements with the A321neo, as well as a capacity increase as a result of the fifth exit door seems to suggest that Airbus are well on their way to creating a true B757 replacement.

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