ETOPS Update for Business Aircraft Operators
When flying longer routings over water and remote areas, business aircraft operators need to be aware of Extended Operations (ETOPS) rules and required certification. If you’re operating scheduled commercial or charter (non-scheduled commercial) flights, there are ETOPS requirements, certifications and alternate flight plans to note, depending on the aircraft’s state of authority. It’s important to keep your 3rd-party provider up-to-date regarding ETOPS certification, as well as any ops manual or regulatory requirements that may impact your choice of enroute alternates.
1. What is ETOPS?
ETOPS is an acronym for ExTendedOPerationS, as redefined by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in 2007. The International Civil Authority Organization (ICAO) defines ETOPS as Extended Diversion Time Operations (EDTO). There is also Long-Range OPerationS (LROPS), as defined by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Previously, ETOPS applied to only twin-engine operations over water and remote areas. Today, ETOPS also covers extended operations by three- and four-engine aircraft. Different countries have their own regulations on ETOPS. The FAA, for example, offers four different levels of ETOPS certification: 60, 120, 138 and 180 minutes (these can be extended beyond 180 in special circumstances). ETOPS-certified aircraft may fly on routes that are a certain number of minutes from suitable alternate airports. The ETOPS certification level refers to single-engine flight time, at long-range cruise speed, between diversion airfields. ETOPS rules apply to both scheduled air carriers and charter operations but not to private non-revenue flights. There are, however, a growing number of private flight operations choosing to adhere to ETOPS rules for added safety during flights.
2. How many different ETOPS minute rules exist?
There are 60-, 120-, 138- and 180-minute rules for FAA ETOPS certification. If you’re always within 59 minutes of suitable alternates (at one-engine, long-range cruise speed in still air), ETOPS rules are not a factor. When your governing authority approves you for ETOPS, certain procedures and notations must be utilized when flight planning. Depending on the minute rule you’re using and the availability of suitable en-route alternates, this may alter routings
3. How do these rules apply in practice?
ETOPS impacts commercial aircraft on routes with diversion time, on one engine, of 60 minutes or more, from an en-route, alternate airfield. If you’re flying from the West Coast to Hawaii, for example, and have a 180-minute ETOPS certification, you must be able to make it to the closest alternate (San Francisco [KSFO] or Kona [PHKO]) within 180 minutes of flying time, at a still-air, one-engine cruise speed from any point. In this case, you’ll need to be able to maintain a single-engine flying speed of at least 338 knots, from midpoint of your flight, to qualify for a 180-minute ETOPS. ETOPS applies to not only extended flight over water but also to flights over remote regions – such as the Amazon basin, Siberia, Africa and central Australia. In terms of ETOPS certification, governing authorities usually approve a smaller amount of minutes (possibly 60) and then extend this over time. Note that ETOPS rules do not apply to government-owned aircraft (including military) or to all-cargo aircraft with more than two engines.
4. How does ETOPS differ from ETPs?
ETOPS differs from Equal Time Points (ETPs) in that ETPs are based on current winds, whereas ETOPS is always calculated using still air, approved True Air Speed (TAS) and one-engine operation. ETPs can be set up using different scenarios – including depressurization and medical emergencies –whereas ETOPS is simply a matter of single-engine still-air flying distance. Many operators, however, try to mirror ETPs with ETOPS, as this makes it easier for crews during flight.
5. What’s necessary to obtain ETOPS approval?
This depends on the appropriate government authority. The FAA provides ETOPS requirements in AC Circular 120-42B, but other government authorities have different requirements. Many charter operators receive ETOPS approval based on the history of their aircraft and engine type. Some operators have been granted exceptions to calculate ETOPS based on max single-engine speed rather than long-range single-engine cruise speed.
6. What airports may be used as ETOPS alternates?
It really depends on your type of aircraft and the airport requirements your government authority has approved for your operations. ETOPS alternates must be open and operational, with weather conditions above minimums, but you do not need to have landing approvals. Operators routinely use military and remote airfields – such as Ascension Island (FHAW), Midway Atoll (PMDY) and Wake Island (PWAK) – for ETOPS purposes, but the airport must be operational while you’re flying in the neighborhood. If you’re operating to Papeete, Tahiti (NTAA), for example, and use Christmas Island, Kiribati (PLCH) as an ETOPS alternate, you may face certain charges (tower staff and airport lighting) to have the field operational after normal hours. Always confirm that runway length and condition are adequate and that aviation fuel is available at ETOPS locations. Additionally, be aware that selected ETOPS alternates must be above weather minimums at the time you leave your exit point.
7. How are ETOPS points noted on a flight plan?
ETOPS points/airports should be clearly outlined on flight plans along with TAS and approved ETOPS minute rules. Operators must always list ETOPS entry and exit points on flight plans. The ETOPS entry point is a certain number of minutes from the departure airport (60, 120, 138 or 180 minutes, based on your ETOPS certification), while the exit point is the same number of minutes prior to arriving at your destination. Ensure that your 3rd-party provider adds ETOPS entry and exit points to your flight plan, just in case you’re ramp-checked or audited later.
8. What are other ETOPS planning tips?
Be sure that your 3rd-party provider is up-to-date on your ETOPS certification, as well as all requirements for suitable alternates. Best practice is to be conservative when choosing ETOPS alternates; in remote areas, you may not always have the luxury of many options. Have your 3rd-party provider research alternates to fully analyze suitability. Some remote alternates, for example, may have palm trees close to the runway, experience aviation fuel shortages or have minimum en-route altitudes (MEAs) that could make approach and landing unnecessarily challenging.
It’s best practice to take the time to research and understand all requirements that have to do with ETOPS and associated flight planning. Be diligent in including required ETOPS information on flight plans and be prepared to re-route, and re-file, day of operation, if weather conditions go down at one of your specified ETOPS alternates.
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