Air Transport World

Goodbye ETOPS, hello ETOPS: under FAA's proposed rule, extended twin operations are simplified to extended operations, but changes are more than skin deep.

US FAA's long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish a unified body of regulations governing long-distance flights will all but eliminate hard diversion limits on operation of twin-engine aircraft, giving compliant operators the freedom to fly those types virtually unfettered on routes taking them over remote and inaccessible areas of the world.

At the same time, the NPRM will for the first time extend some requirements that previously applied only to two-engine airplanes to those with more than two engines if they are to operate "more than 180 minutes from an adequate airport." At present, types such as the 747, A340, MD-11 and future aircraft like the A380 are not subject to limitations that, for example, prevent most twins from operating at diversion distances greater than 180 min. Also, reflecting the growing number of polar flights, the proposed rule extends certain requirements to polar operations "even if those operations would not otherwise be considered ETOPS."

Under the NPRM, released in November, the phrase ETOPS remains but now stands for extended operations as opposed to extended twin operations. By eliminating the distinction, FAA is acknowledging that powerplant reliability is not the primary culprit in diversions. In fact, according to Boeing, just 3% of 777 ETOPS diversions are related to engine problems, while Airbus reports a similar experience for operators of A330s. "When engine reliability reaches a certain level, as measured by the inflight shutdown rate, the risk of independent failures leading to the loss of all thrust is not significant enough to require limiting the allowed time from an airport and other limiting factors come into play," states the agency in the preamble to the new rule. …

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