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Home > ETOPS > What is ETOPS with regards to the Boeing 777 and Airbus 340 debates?
What is ETOPS with regards to the Boeing 777 and Airbus 340 debates?
Flying - ETOPS
Written by Capt Lim   
Thursday, 06 December 2007 19:20
ETOPS or Extended Twin Operations is an acronym created by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) to describe the operation of twin-engine aircraft on a route that contains a point further than 60 minutes flying from an adequate airport at the approved one engine inoperative cruising speed. Some people like to refer to ETOPS humorously as ‘Engine Turns Or Passengers Swim!’

In the beginning of commercial aviation, fare-paying passengers were flown on single-engine airplanes. Gradually two or more-engine airplanes were introduced as it provided higher safety in the event that an engine fails on them.

Since 1936, FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) had created requirements for all types of aircraft to be within 100 miles of an adequate airport when carrying passengers. Why 100 miles? Because that was the average speed of older airplanes then. The 60-minutes rule was established on all airplanes with one engine inoperative regardless as to the number of engines the airplane have. The purpose was to reduce the risk of all engines failure for it ensured that, should one engine failed at any point along the route, a landing could be made before the remaining engine failed. This was because of the concern on the reliability of piston-powered engine at that time. When jet engines were introduced, it was shown that they were more reliable than piston engine airplanes and hence a new kind of operation was introduced.

Hence, in the early 1980’s, ICAO came up with a stipulation that, unless an aircraft can meet special ETOPS criteria, it recommended that all twin turbine powered aircraft be restricted to 60 minutes at single engine speed from an adequate airport.

The Boeing 777’s are some of those airplanes that meet the ETOPS performance requirements. These are the airplanes that are specially modified to improve the reliability and redundancy of the performance of the engine, electrical, hydraulics and avionic systems. In 1998, the Boeing 777’s were certified to fly on ETOPS routes for up to 208 minutes.

Approval for ETOPS operation is given by the Civil Aviation Department of the country concerned. The Aviation Department places strong emphasis on the flying operations and engineering practices of the particular Airline. Should there be infringements of the strict ETOPS requirement, the Airline may lose its ETOPS approval to operate on a particular route. For example, on a particular route, say from Tokyo to San Francisco, if X Airline suffered an engine failure during the cruising phase after an hour’s flight out of Tokyo, the ETOPS approval of 208 minutes for that Airline may be withdrawn for future operations.

This ETOPS policy is initially a slight disadvantage to the Boeing 777 relative to the Airbus 340 competition. However, it was proposed that this rule be extended to long haul operations of two engine jets to three and four engine airplanes. This policy shift by FAA, if adopted, would force the four-engine Airbus 340 and Boeing 747 to meet the same safety requirement of the twin engine Boeing 777.

The Airbus 340 versus Boeing 777 debates have quite often made Airbus to argue that its A340 is more reliable, affordable and safer than the Boeing 777. The ETOPS policy has tacitly supported Airbus’s position even though studies indicated that the Boeing 777 had suffered less engine failures and diversions than the Airbus 340.

However, Airbus may need to change its marketing pitches if the FAA adopts the recommendations of the extended range twin-operations working group soon. ETOPS rules mandate strict maintenance requirement, extra reserve fuel and additional cargo-fire-suppression equipment. FAA have noted that three and four-engine jets traveling long distances have been exempt from such additional safety rules since the air carrier jet era began. It was concluded by the working group that it is in the flying public's best interest to extend these rules to all long-range commercial aircraft as well.

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