The Boeing 757 is a beast of an airliner. The single-aisle jet is overpowered, robustly engineered with a super-critical wing that balances both short takeoffs and landing distances with transatlantic range. It is a rare that a type is still prevalent in the airline industry almost 40 years after its first flight without any major upgrades or revisions. Still today, hundreds of 757s ply the skies even though the assembly line was closed way back in November of 2005.
While the 757 is a unique jet, there is an even more exclusive subset of 757s. That is the Combi 757-200M. A combi jet is an airliner that has both cargo positions and a passenger cabin. This type of aircraft used to be more common in the industry (along with the QC or Quick Change jets that could be rapidly converted between a passenger jet and a cargo aircraft). The Boeing 737, 747s and Douglas DC-8s all were either offered as combi options on delivery or were later converted in the aftermarket for niche purposes. After a couple of notable cargo aircraft fires in the 1980s, the FAA made it more difficult to certify a combi aircraft. The FAA had concerns with a fire on the jet due to the contents of the cargo. Without expensive fire detection, extinguishing systems, and robust restraints, a new Combi aircraft would not be certified.
Enter the Mighty 757-200M
Before the change in regulations, Boeing built a single factory combi 757 as part of a deal with Nepal Airlines. The airline was supposed to take delivery of two aircraft but only ended up taking one combi aircraft. It was the only combi passenger 757 built at the factory. The type never really caught on as no other airlines purchased the type.
Today, the 757M is still a very rare aircraft. At one time Pemco World Air Services, Vision Techology Systems and Precision Conversions all offered the 757. The conversion has not proved very popular though as the only current operators of the 757-200M are ATI and the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
ATI and Royal New Zealand Air Force Operate the Boeing 757-200M today
The ATI story is pretty unique. ATI once offered Douglas DC-8 combi service, primarily for military customers. It flew both cargo and people to a number of niche routes to remote destinations in the Pacific and Atlantic. As the DC-8 fleet was reaching the end of its service life, the company purchased 4 757-200Ms from National Airlines. National Airlines themselves converted the 757 jets in anticipation of a contract with the government. When this contract didn’t materialize, they sold their combi jets to ATI. ATI took delivery of three of the four aircraft. They operate the fleet regularly today.
By our count (and we could be wrong here as some conversions seem to have been announced but never delivered), there were only 7 757-200M aircraft ever built or converted. While there are plenty of 757 cargo aircraft, the 757-200M is one of the rarest sub-fleets of 757s still flying today.
On YouTube, there is a cool video showing the inside of an ATI 757-200M Combi aircraft by Jetblast141aviation. It holds 10 pallets and up to 42 passengers. The pallet positions are in the front of the aircraft with the 42 seats in the rear, separated by a partition.