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Monday, August 16, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boeing's 777 Will Be Tops When It Comes To Etops

SOMETIME in the next five minutes, a twin-engine Boeing 757 or 767 will take off in America, Europe or the Pacific and carry some 200 people thousands of miles safely to their destination. Perhaps it will be Orlando to Glasgow, Stockholm to Tokyo or Perth to Mauritius - but whatever the route, it will be an affordable, nonstop flight that avoids the delays and congestion of international gateway airports.

This long-distance, twin-engine traveling convenience has become so routine, safe and beneficial to passengers that we who build and fly twin-engine jetliners are always surprised when news coverage focuses on these flights (called ETOPS, for extended-range, twin-engine operations). Routine events - 300 times a day, 10,000 times a month - are usually not the grist of daily journalism. So it would be useful to step back and look at ETOPS, particularly as it relates to the safety and business prospects of our new twin-engine 777. Safety is the key because without it, there are no business prospects for any airplane.

ETOPS is essentially a safety provision: how much flying time a twin-engine plane can be from an acceptable airport should one engine be shut down. Generally speaking, twins must stay within 60 minutes' flying time, on one engine, from an airport. ETOPS allows 75, 120 or 180 minutes, if the airplane and the airline meet stringent safety requirements.

Only in 1985 did the FAA, having assessed the reliability of today's modern jet engines, formally sanction ETOPS. Since the 757 and 767 were already in service in 1985, we had to go back and retrofit them for ETOPS, and in-service experience provided a readily available measure for ETOPS suitability. For the first time, with the 777, we can build in 350 airplane and engine features that ensure safe and reliable long-distance travel, and we'll test the 777 as no other plane has been tested prior to first delivery.

But news coverage has tried to create these concerns:

The lives of passengers and crews are at risk.

Fact: The concern is that a twin loses thrust in one engine and, before it can make a safe landing, something else goes wrong with the second engine. It has never happened. In the entire history of twin-engine commercial jetliners, there has not been a single accident resulting from the shutdown of one engine and the subsequent loss of the other. Not one. The record of the Boeing 767 is illustrative: After more than 312,000 flights, only 15 planes have experienced an engine shutdown during the ETOPS portion of a flight. All diverted, turned back or continued - safely, as a result of rigorous ETOPS safety requirements.

The 777 needs to be proven safe for ETOPS on thousands of shorter flights first, but Boeing wants to use just a checklist of precautions.

Fact: When the first 777 takes flight next June, it will begin the most extensive flight-test program ever for any commercial jetliner. Three 777s will each fly 1,000 flights - the equivalent of a full year of airline service. Those 3,000 flights will simulate day-to-day airline operations and maintenance, and 270 flights will be flown by line crews of three of the world's leading airlines.

All new airplanes are plagued with glitches that need to be worked out in passenger service before allowing ETOPS.

Fact: Boeing's philosophy is, and always has been, to resolve safety concerns before passengers board any new airplane, including the 777. Guided by the experience we've gained from other jets, Boeing will use advanced technology to conduct more than 70 new tests for the 777's engines and more than 140 for its systems to prove the airplane's safety and reliability. The new lab we've built for this testing is literally a test plane that "flies" even as the first 777 is being built. With this unprecedented testing, most potential problems can be found and fixed before flight testing and well before passengers fly on the 777.

The FAA is about to grant Boeing's request for 180-minute ETOPS for the 777 at service entry; European authorities, in a setback for the 777, granted a more conservative 120 minutes.

Fact: The FAA has only established the criteria that the 777 will have to meet in order to achieve 180-minute ETOPS at service entry. Those criteria are so demanding that one top FAA official has been reported as saying that he is skeptical that Boeing will achieve all of our objectives. That is our challenge - to successfully clear the many and high hurdles that the FAA's criteria place before us. In Europe, the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) will allow 120-minute ETOPS, at service entry, based on strict requirements almost identical to the FAA's.

These requirements, however, will allow for 180-minute ETOPS much sooner than the JAA usually allows. While our goal has not yet been fully met, we are pleased with the progress to date, and we continue to work with the JAA.

If the 777 gets only 120-minute ETOPS at service entry from European authorities, Boeing will be less competitive and lose sales to European-based Airbus.

Fact: Only one heavily traveled route in the world requires 180-minute ETOPS - mainland U.S. to Hawaii. The vast majority of other routes can be flown with the plane not more than 120 minutes from an appropriate airport. However, 180-minute ETOPS does provide for more efficient and direct travel, often eliminating significant amounts of flying time compared to 120-minute ETOPS on the same route. Since we launched the 777, it has won 80 percent of the market - against Airbus' A-330 and -340 and McDonnell Douglas' MD-11. And that was before we knew that the JAA would grant even 120-minute ETOPS.

The record is clear and undeniable: Today's twin-engine jets have proven their safety and reliability while providing the traveling public with affordable, convenient service - direct flights from more cities to more destinations than is feasible with four-engine airplanes. We are committed to the 777 continuing that tradition from the day it enters service - an airplane ready to safely fly any distance, short or long. Lars Q. Andersen is responsible for Boeing 777 ETOPS and certification at Boeing. Chester L. Ekstrand is director of flight training and industry regulatory affairs in the Customer Services Division of Boeing Commercial Airplane Group.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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