Travelling on a single engine and ETOPS

You have probably heard the joke. “This is your Captain speaking, we have just lost an engine, with one left it means we will be slower and take an extra two hours to reach our destination.” One of the passengers turns to his mate and says, “crikey, if we lose the other we could be up here all night”.

While it may not be a common joke, the thought of what happens if an engine does fail probably crosses the mind of many of our members. With the demise of four engine aircraft in passenger service, the subject is going to come up more often. One of our members decided to pose the question.

.. a few weeks the Qantas A380 going from LA to Australia had (an) engine die and so it turned around. Ok cool, they have 3 other engines still…. but what happens if you’re flying a 777 across the Pacific and an engine goes out? Or what if both engines go? There (is) no land anywhere and i don’t know if a large plane like that could coast on a single engine?

Aircraft reliability has been a concern for aviators and regulators for a long time for obvious reasons. It’s a bit hard to pull over to the side and check something at 40,000 feet. As a result, aircraft are built to take into account the possibility of things going wrong. Losing an engine is very much one of these things as one of our members points out.

Planes are “designed” so that in cases where they are down to half the engines they have, they can still be flown. Naturally, some adjustments need to be made to the flying technique, but the main thing is that there is still adequate control over the aircraft (notwithstanding any other unknown or more serious impediments). At that point, a diversion airport should be found.

As more and more aircraft were being designed for long distance operation on the basis of twin engine power, a standard was formed called ETOPs or extend range twin operations. This standard was basically a certification for the aircraft and the operator that allowed it to operate long range.

As part of this certification, the aircraft route must always allow it to be within 3 hours of single engine flying time to a suitable airport. For LA to Sydney, the longest overwater section without suitable airports is from LA to Hawaii, which is 5 hours. So while 3 hours does seem a long time, that’s more than likely the worst case scenario and a landing will often be much sooner.

So it seems that everything has been thought of when it comes to those long distance flights with just two engines. Do you feel comfortable, or perhaps you have been in a scenario where one engine failed, why not join the conversation HERE.


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