ETOPS Explained - AeroGuard

ETOPS Explained

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Have you wondered what would happen if an airplane suddenly lost function of an engine? That’s where ETOPS, or Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards, come into play. What are ETOPS rules and why are they important? Let’s learn more about this acronym and its significance in commercial aircraft.

What’s ETOPS?

At some point, you may have boarded a plane labeled “ETOPS”. ETOPS refers to a set of regulations and standards issued for long flights that must be met if an airline would like to fly a plane more than 60 minutes outside an emergency airport.

ETOPS History

Years ago, piston engines were undependable. Because of this, twin-engine aircraft were required to fly in range of a suitable airport for landing. In 1953, the FAA imposed what is known as the “60-minute rule” on two- and three-engine airplanes, disallowing them to fly more than 60 minutes outside the closest airport.

As time went on, with advances in technology and development of jet engines, the FAA started to approve twin-engine flights 120 minutes from an airport. Following this, the very first ETOPS certification rating was given in the 1980s when Trans World Airlines wanted to fly their twin-engine 767 from Boston to Paris. In 1988, the flight time was extended to a 180-minute maximum.

As engine reliability has improved over time, ETOPS rules today can be as high as 370 minutes.

ETOPS Certification Requirements

Twin-engine airplanes today, with their advanced technology, have made it possible for aircraft to fly much longer distances than what we saw back then. The guidelines continue to be updated as manufacturers continue to produce stronger engines. ETOPS rules are applicable to part 121 and part 135 airplanes and operators.

ETOPS regulations vary depending on the region, but it’s important that both the pilot and aircraft are certified to execute ETOPS.

Safety and Efficiency with ETOPS

According to Avionics International, “The current approval standard for 180-minute ETOPS (i.e., three hours to an alternate airfield on one engine) is 0.02 shutdowns per 1,000 hours of engine operation.” Aircraft systems, over time, have become incredibly reliable.

Although flights continue to become safer, it remains very important for aircraft to go through rigorous tests to maintain ETOPS certification. As the ETOPS certifications grow higher, this indicates added levels of safety and efficiency of an aircraft. However, the higher the ETOPS rating is, the more difficult it is for the aircraft to maintain approval. This goes for operators as well. With ETOPS certification comes certain crew and dispatcher training.

Since the first ETOPS operation in the 80s, years of success in the safety of flight have followed. When you hop on a plane for your next travel destination, pay close attention: you just might be flying ETOPS!