• What are ETOPS or Extended Operations

    Extended-range Twin-engine Operation Performance Standards

With the arrival of turbine engines, aeroplanes significantly increased their range and it was necessary to create a regulation that prevented aeroplanes flying further away than is desirable from their alternative airports. This meant aeroplanes had to follow inefficient routes, due to the detour taken.

In this post, we explain what ETOPS are, why they came about and which are the highest ETOPS certifications at the moment.

What ETOPS are and how they arose

ETOPS is the acronym for Extended-range Twin-engine Operation Performance Standards, presently, Extended Operations. ETOPS are standards established by ICAO that allow certain aeroplanes to distance themselves over 60 minutes from an alternative airport.

With advances in engine manufacturing, aircraft were increasingly able to fly further and further, and it became inefficient for them to necessarily pass within such short distances of alternative airports.

To put you into context, we are talking about the 1980s, when aeroplanes such as MD-11 or L-1011 TriStar were at their all time best.

With the passing of time, the industry moved onto long range twin engine aircraft as their operation is simpler and operational costs are lower. Models like the Boeing 757 or Airbus A330 emerge at this time.

As these are twin engine aeroplanes, we go back to square one, aeroplanes cannot be far away from alternative airports. It was then that the need to create ETOPS came up.

The 60 minutes rule

In 1953, the FAA established that a twin engine aeroplane was able to fly for 60 minutes if it lost an engine. It was, therefore, possible, from then on, to create a simple rule when planning flights: the route to be followed would not be further than 60 minutes away from an appropriate airport.

In the USA, this rule was always easy to keep as there are a great number of airports in existence, however, what about the most isolated areas in which there aren’t enough?

Even though this rule was extended to 180 minutes for aeroplanes equipped with three and four turbines, it wasn´t enough.

This is why, in 1985, the first ETOPS certification was given to a twin engine, specifically to a Boeing 767-200, belonging to the North American TWA, now extinct.

At present, ETOPS certification is not limited to twin engines, so the term was modified to Extended Operations (general extended operations).

  • Photo: By Alec Wilson from Khon Kaen, Thailand – HS-BBQ ETOPS, CC BY-SA 2.0

Obtaining the ETOPS certification

The requirements for obtaining an ETOPS certification are very high. In addition, the greater the autonomy, the greater the requirements.

The manufacturers must be able to prove to the certification agencies that all essential systems work perfectly. Moreover, numerous tests are carried out with just a single engine working, in order to check how they function as well as their performance under complex weather conditions.

Once ETOPS certification has been obtained, air operators have to ensure these aeroplanes pass their inspections in shorter spaces of time, to make sure everything is in mint condition.

Also, flight crew must also be trained specially for carrying out ETOPS operations.

Did you know…?

The Airbus A350 boasts a 370 ETOPS certification whereas the Boeing 777 holds an ETOPS 330. This means that these aeroplanes can practically fly in a straight line to any destination in the world. With such high certification, they really only have restrictions in some areas of the Antarctic.

ETOPS planning

You already know what ETOPS planning is and how certification is obtained, but how about route planning?

The first thing we have to do is determine where the origin and destination airports are on the map.

Once this is done, we will search for the alternative airports and from them, circles will be drawn whose circumference will have a radium equivalent to the aircrafts’ ETOPS certification.

Finally, we draw our route so that the airplane flies through, at least, one of these circles.

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