Both the 737 and 757 are popular Boeing narrowbody twinjets. That said, the 737 far outstrips the 757 in terms of sales and longevity. The 737 was introduced some 16 years before the 757 first appeared and continues to be produced some 17 years after the last 757 rolled off Boeing’s production line.
In this article, I’ll chart the histories of these two similar aircraft, and see how they measure up against each other.
Brief Histories of Boeing 737 and 757
The 757 first flew commercially around 40 years ago. It is no longer in production, with the last 757 rolling out in 2005. The 757 was produced in two main passenger variants – the 757-200 and the 757-300. The 757-200 was later developed into freighter and convertible models.
Significant customers for the 757 included major US airlines, European charter airlines, and cargo companies. The 757 is well suited to short- and mid-range services and transcontinental US routes. In 1986, it was approved to fly ETOPS (Extended-Range Twin-Engine Operations Performance Standards) operations allowing it to operate on intercontinental routes.
The 757 passenger variants are listed below:
|Aircraft Model||Type||First In Service|
The flying history of the 737 goes all the way back to 1967, and so is older than the 757, flying for 16 years before the 757 came on the scene. The history of the 737 has been characterized by constant evolution and the latest versions of the 737 are still in production, some 17 years after the last 757 rolled off the production line.
The 737 delivery run has, so far, lasted for 55 years and will continue well into this decade with significant orders still to be completed for the 737MAX. In contrast, the 757 delivery run lasted a total of 22 years.
The 737 family has been developed over four separate series (or generations), the earlier two of which are no longer in production:
- Boeing 737 Original comprises two main variants – the 737-100 and the 737-200. More than one thousand 737 Originals were delivered by Boeing.
- Boeing 737 Classic comprises three more fuel-efficient variants with differing capacities and ranges: the 737-300, the 737-400, and the 737-500. Almost two thousand 737 Classics were delivered by Boeing.
- Boeing 737 Next Generation comprises four main variants – the 737-600, the 737-700 (and 737-700ER), the 737-800, and the 737-900 (and 737-900ER). Almost seven thousand 737NG aircraft were delivered by Boeing.
- Boeing 737 MAX is an evolution of earlier 737 generations, with more efficient engines, aerodynamic improvements such as its distinctive split-tip winglets, as well as airframe modifications. The 737 MAX series has four variants – MAX7, MAX8, MAX9, and MAX10.
The majority of Boeing’s 737 production is now focused on the 737MAX, with only a small number of 737-800s, and the specialist 737-800A, aircraft yet to be delivered from the NG series.
|Series||Models Included||First in Service||Last Delivery|
|Classic||737-300, 737-400, 737-500||1984||2000|
|Next Generation||737-600, 737-700, 737-800, 737-900||1997||In production (737-800/800A only)|
|MAX||737MAX7, 737MAX8, 737MAX9, 737MAX10||2017||In production (737MAX10 from 2023 onwards)|
Let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how these two aircraft measure up against each other, starting with the 757:
|Aircraft Model||Length (m)||Wingspan (m)||Tail Height (m)||Fuselage Width (m)|
The numerous 737 variants demonstrate quite a lot of variety in terms of size and physical characteristics. For example, if we look at how the fuselage length of the 737 variants has changed over time, we see that there has been a tendency for the 737 to increase in length as new variants are rolled out, although the relationship is not perfect as some variants such as the 737-500, 737-600, and 737-700 were developed with relatively short fuselages.
See the graph below:
All 737 variants have shorter fuselages than the 757 variants.
The 737 wingspan also differs between different generations, ranging from 28m for the Original and around 36m for the NG and MAX generations, but always less than the 757.
The 737 fuselage width has remained constant throughout at 3.8m, similar to the 757.
The 757 variants have ranges varying between 3,400nm and 3,900nm. These ranges are similar to the longest ranges available on some aircraft within the 737NG and 737MAX series.
Whilst the 757 was originally targeted at the hub and point-to-point carriers operating short- to mid-range transcontinental routes, its ETOPS certification in 1986 allowed it to operate intercontinental routes, including transatlantic routes, boosting sales.
All of the 737 variants are primarily designed for short- to medium-haul routes. However, some 737 aircraft, especially later variants, are also ETOPS certified. But, ETOPS-certified 737s rarely fly on transatlantic routes.
The 737 variant ranges vary significantly, and so not to complicate matters too much, let’s take a look at the variants within the 737NG and 737MAX series with the longest and shortest ranges as shown in the tables below, starting with the longest ranges:
And, below are the variants with the shortest ranges:
The relatively rare 737-600 has the longest range of the 737NG models.
Seating Capacity and Configurations
The 757 typically carries anywhere between 180 and 240 passengers, depending on the number of classes in the aircraft cabin. For 757 seating numbers, I looked at Azur Air, Condor, Delta Airlines, Icelandair, and Jet2. Typical seat numbers are set out in the table below:
|757-200||235 – 238||183||142 – 199|
|757-300||–||225 – 262||234|
You can see that seating numbers vary significantly even for the same aircraft with the same number of cabins. This is because different airlines dedicate different amounts of the cabin to premium travelers and not all premium cabins are equipped with flatbed seats.
|Seats (2-class)||138 – 153||162 – 178||178 – 193||188 – 204|
With a similar fuselage width, the 757 and 737 interiors allow cabin configurations of up to six seats per row in economy class with a single central aisle. Where business class is fitted, the seating configuration is typically 2-2.
Boeing received 1,050 orders in total for the 757. The majority of these (87%) were for the 757-200. Airline customers that ordered the 757 were spread worldwide. That said, it was the large USA carriers that placed the biggest orders as the 757 offers flexibility to operate on USA domestic routes and, following its ETOPS certification, is also able to fly on transatlantic and inter-continental services.
Of the B757 aircraft remaining in service today, Delta and American Airlines are by far the largest operators.
I looked at Boeing’s official data to the end of July 2022 to investigate how many 737s have been ordered and delivered for each variant. I grouped the data into generations and this is what I found:
*The 737NG and 737MAX ‘deliveries’ in the graph above are the sum of delivered aircraft and unfulfilled orders to provide a ‘like-for-like’ comparison with other variants.
The graph above shows that the Next Generation is the most successful of the four 737 generations to date. In terms of individual variants, the 737-800 and the 737MAX8 are the two most successful.
With a total of more than 15,000 deliveries and unfulfilled orders, the 737 in total is a significantly more successful aircraft than the 757 which received just over 1,000 orders.
Boeing 737 vs. 757: Summary
The 757 and the 737 have a few features in common – both achieved ETOPS approvals allowing them to operate on longer distance over-water routes traditionally operated by 4-engined widebody aircraft. This certification was particularly beneficial to the 757 which began to operate on transatlantic routes shortly after certification. In contrast, 737 transatlantic routes remain a rarity. Both are also narrow-body twinjet aircraft.
That’s perhaps where the similarities end.
The 757 production run ended some time ago and whilst there a still a fair number of 757s in airline fleets across the world, numbers have dwindled more significantly in recent times. In contrast, significant numbers of 737 aircraft continue to be produced, and the constant evolution and improvements to the 737 by Boeing have given this aircraft a new lease of life.
The 737 is a constantly evolving Boeing aircraft that has been in production for more than five decades. The 737’s evolution has often occurred under competitive pressure from other manufacturers, notably Airbus and its A320 family.
Despite its popularity with airline customers, the 737 has not been without controversy. The 737 MAX air crashes in 2018 and 2019 seriously dented customer confidence in the MAX program and in Boeing. Boeing is now starting to recover from this with the majority of aviation authorities having now cleared the 737 MAX to return to the skies.