by Gregory Polek
Boeing expects the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue approval for Rolls-Royce-powered 777s to fly 330-minute ETOPS missions by the end of the first quarter, followed by authorization for Pratt & Whitney-powered airplanes some time near the end of the year, according to 777 vice president and chief project engineer Bob Whittington. In December the company gained approval for operators of 777-300ERs, 777-200LRs, 777 Freighters and 777-200ERs powered by General Electric GE90 engines to fly up to 330 minutes from an alternate airport, allowing for more direct routes, less fuel burn and a reduction in CO2 emissions–particularly over the vast expanse of the South Pacific and on polar routes from Asia to North America and Western Europe.
The first airline to buy the new, longer ETOPS option–Air New Zealand–completed the first 240 ETOPS flight late last year with a Los Angeles-to-Auckland-bound 777-300ER. Whittington told AIN that the airlines that opt for the longer ETOPS capability must still gain operational approval from their respective regulatory agencies. Still in the midst of that approval process, ANZ must first fly 240-minute ETOPS for about a year before it can start flying routes requiring 330-minute ETOPS.
Meanwhile, Boeing continues to work toward European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approval to satisfy the international regulatory agencies that require European certification, allowing Air France, for example, to fly from Paris to Tahiti. Whittington estimated the GE90-powered 777s would gain European paperwork within three to six months.
After Boeing worked with the FAA for some two-and-half years to win authority to offer 330-minute approval, analyzing data on each system to ensure they all met reliability standards, engineers needed to change nothing in the airplane, he said.
“The two major components that have to change to make the airplane good for extended ETOPS, whether it’s 240 or 330 [minutes] are the crew-oxygen and the fire- suppression systems,” explained Whittington. “So [the question is] if you have a fire in the cargo compartment, do you have enough Halon to keep it suppressed for 330 minutes.”
Most of the airlines interested in flying 240-minute ETOPS, for example, fly airplanes already equipped with extended oxygen and Halon options, he added.
“Air New Zealand, for instance, didn’t have to do anything to the airplanes,” said Whittington. “We updated their flight manual and they just had to get regulatory approval and they could go.”
In fact, Boeing’s ability to extend its ETOPS offering had less to do with any advances in technology than in the demonstration of the 777’s ability to divert on one engine from such distances. “A couple of things have happened,” said Whittington. “One is, we have demonstrated the reliability of the airplane and the engine over the past 15 years, which has given everybody comfort…we have real data that says all the systems are capable of operating at that ETOPS range. And the other thing is that the markets have developed, so where we used to fly just 747s essentially–big airplanes from hub to hub–and as the market fragments and wants to go to smaller point-to-point service, there has been more market demand for smaller airplanes that can fly point to point over such long distances.”
Now regularly using 240-minute ETOPS capability, ANZ flies a 777-300ER between the U.S. mainland and Auckland. For any airline, the capability will reveal its value most on missions between the South Pacific and the U.S. mainland, the South Pacific and Africa or South America, and polar routes between Asia–including such points as Singapore, China and Japan–and both Western Europe and the U.S., said the Boeing executive.
Flying directly over the North Pole using the 180-minute ETOPS standard requires open landing alternatives in Siberia, for example, forcing operators to re-plan the route and add fuel in the event of an airfield closure due to weather. Such diversions cost considerable fuel and time, while even a 240-minute ETOPS capability would avoid most such scenarios.
In fact, relatively few routes require 330-minute capability, said Whittington. Although Boeing’s package allows the airplanes to fly 330-minute ETOPS, most airlines need only 240. “When you start drawing 330-minute circles, there aren’t many places on the globe where you need to go from 240 to 330,” he said.
330-min South Pole Routes
Most of the routes that could benefit from 330-minute ETOPS–such as Sydney to Buenos Aires or Auckland to Johannesburg–take airplanes over the South Pole. “A typical 180 [ETOPS flight] across the South Pacific would create a dogleg,” explained Whittington. “If you fly direct, that’s 20 percent less fuel that you need to upload.”
While Air New Zealand will account for one of the few airlines that will make use of the 330-minute capability, the airline already gleans quite an advantage from its 240-minute ETOPS operation. Boeing calculations show that compared with a four-engine airplane, a 777 equipped to fly 240-minute ETOPS would save about 100 minutes in transit time, burn 20 percent less fuel and emit almost 20 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) on a route between the U.S. mainland and Auckland. The fuel savings alone equates to roughly 50,000 pounds. Compared with a 180-minute ETOPS-equipped 777, on operator would save about 30,000 pounds of fuel, or about 11 or 12 percent, said Whittington.
Boeing twin-engine jets have flown more than seven million ETOPS flights since 1985, and more than 120 Boeing operators fly more than 50,000 ETOPS flights each month.
“Really, the 767 opened the door to ETOPS,” said Whittington. “Again, it was part of Boeing’s philosophy of point-to-point service. It used to be you’d round everybody up at JFK, put them in a 747 and fly them to [London] Heathrow and distribute everybody from there. But then the engines [on the 767] had become so reliable that we were able to convince the regulatory agencies that the 767 could fly, say, from Chicago to Brussels directly.” Years later, airlines replacing four-engine airplanes with 777s over the Pacific began recognizing they could use more than the 180-minute ETOPS capability offered “out of the box,” convincing Boeing some two-and-a-half years ago to launch the 330-minute ETOPS program.
“This is the logical continuation of the Boeing philosophy of point-to-point service,” concluded Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 777 program. “Passengers want to minimize their overall travel time. This is one more step in that direction.”