Small Planes Over Big Oceans (ETOPS Explained)
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Small Planes Over Big Oceans (ETOPS Explained)

October 13, 2019

This Wendover Productions video was made possible
by Hover. Get your unique domain and email from Hover
by going to and using the code wendover at checkout. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I
let twins fly long-haul over-water routes.” Those were the words of Lynn Helms—administrator
of the Federal Aviation Administration during the Reagan administration. At the time, no commercial american airplane
with two engines was allowed to fly anywhere farther than 60 minutes from a diversion airport. The belief was that, if one engine failed,
the other could only safely fly the plane for about an hour, but this rule severely
limited what smaller planes could do. On North Atlantic routes like New York to
London, twin-engine planes could only fly in these areas but a direct route looked like
this. The options were to either fly a twin-engine
plane on an inefficient routing or fly a inefficient three or four engine plane. There was no place for long-and-skinny routes
between smaller cities using smaller planes since airline couldn’t legally fly those
smaller planes. This one simple rule changed the very way
airplanes were built. Now, in the 60’s, this 60 minute regulation
only applied to planes with two engines. Of course aircraft manufacturers could build
quad-engine jets but those had to be huge for airlines to make their money’s worth
with their high fuel consumption. The 747’s of the time could carry more than
400 passengers. They could therefore only fly on super high-demand
routes like New York to London to have any hope of being full. In order to start flying more convenient non-stop
routes from smaller markets, planes had to get smaller while still being legally allowed
to hop the pond. That’s where trijets came into play. With three engines, these planes weren’t
subject to the same 60-minute regulation as twinjets. They could easily fly any transatlantic route. That’s why in the 70s or 80s, the long-haul
jets you’d see at airpots were, for the most part, either 747’s or trijets like
the DC-10. This 60-minute regulation was inconvenient
for Atlantic Crossings, but in the Pacific it actually changed how Hawaii developed. There are zero diversion airports between
California and Hawaii so the route isn’t even close to covered under the 60-minute
rule. As a result, airlines could only fly huge
planes between the mainland and Hawaii which meant that planes could pretty much only fly
to Honolulu. There was virtually no service between the
other islands and the mainland which meant the other islands were severely isolated. That’s part of the reason why the tourism
industry only picked up on the other islands in recent decades. Luckily, change was coming. The 60 minute rule originated from the days
of piston driven propeller aircraft. With these, it was far more common for engines
to just stop working mid-flight. That’s why there were contingency engines. The regulations just didn’t adapt to the
increased reliability of jet engines. Statistically, for every failure of a jet
engine, there are 117 piston engine failures. Once the jet age rolled in, engine failure
just wasn’t as much of a concern, so, in 1985, the FAA begrudgingly granted permission
to Trans World Airlines to fly their twin-engined 767 direct between Boston and Paris—a route
taking it up to 120 minutes away from diversion airports. This was the first example of a brand new
FAA certification called ETOPS—“Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards,”
or more colloquially, “engines turn or passengers swim.” Before an airline can fly a long over-water
route they have to buy a plane with what’s known as an ETOPS type rating. Basically that means that the plane was built
with adequate redundancies, communications systems, and fire suppression systems to fly
safely if one engine fails. For example, the 767—the first plane to
get an ETOPS certification—has a type rating of 180 minutes meaning it can fly anywhere
as long as its 180 minutes from a diversion airport. But just because a plane has a type rating
doesn’t mean an airline can fly it ETOPS. They have to have a special maintenance plan,
a special flight crew, special cabin crew, special dispatchers, special fuel quantities,
and special passenger recovery plans since, just because there’s a runway doesn’t
mean that a plane can safely divert since the emergency doesn’t end once the plane
lands. Cold Bay, Alaska, for example, is a perfect
diversion airport for routes between Asia and North America. It only has six commercial flights per week
nowadays but as a former Air Force Base it has an enormous runway. The only issue is that the town of Cold Bay
has a population of 108—its tiny—so any diversions automatically double or triple
the amount of people in the small town. There certainly aren’t enough hotel rooms
or restaurants to house and feed stranded passengers so, if airlines plan to use Cold
Bay as a diversion airport, they need to make a plan for how to house, feed, and recover
passengers within 48 hours of landing. Last year an American Airlines 787 was flying
from Shanghai to Chicago when its right engine had an issue halfway across the Pacific Ocean. The plane quickly took a left turn diverting
to Cold Bay. Even before landing the plan was implemented
as flight attendants served a second meal service early. Just a few hours after safely landing in Cold
Bay, American’s mechanics took off from Seattle bound for Cold Bay to start fixing
the plane while Alaska Airlines, American’s partner, sent a 737 from Anchorage to pick
up the stranded passengers. Meanwhile, flight attendants served the third
set of meals they had stocked while waiting on the ground and the coast guard opened their
heated hanger to passengers. Just 10 hours after the emergency landing,
passengers were on their way to Anchorage where they spent the night before taking an
American 757 to Chicago. That was a perfect example of how the passenger
recovery plan worked. The quick response and defined plan helped
the airline get passengers out safely and quickly. Now, because of the solid engine reliability,
numerous redundancies, and well-designed passenger recovery plans, airlines and airplanes can
now receive insane ETOPS certifications. The 787 Dreamliner, the plane that diverted
to Cold Bay, has a type rating of 330 minutes. That means it can fly up to 5.5 hours away
from a diversion airport. Certain routes over long-ocean stretches in
the southern hemisphere were theoretically possible in the past with four engine planes
but were economically impossible since airlines could never fill the large planes on the low-demand
city pairs like Melbourne to Santiago. With the ETOPS 330 certification, LATAM Airlines
can fly their small 787 economically on this relatively low-demand route across the South
Pacific. The Airbus a350 is even rated for ETOPS 370—it
can fly 6 hours and 10 minutes away from diversion airports. This plane can therefore fly everywhere on
earth except directly over the South Pole. Because of this simple rule change, three
and four engine planes are largely a relic of the past. Boeing and Airbus’ largest jets are both
their only four engine planes in production—the 747 and a380. Nearly all North Atlantic traffic today is
on twin-engined planes as smaller and smaller planes get ETOPS certifications. Air Canada, for example, flies their tiny
120 passenger a319 with ETOPS certification daily between St Johns Airport and London
Heathrow. British Airways even sends the even smaller
a318 between New York and London City Airport. These routes would have been unimaginable
30 years ago but the reliability of the airplanes of today mean we need not fear flying small
planes over big oceans. This video was made possible by Hover. I talked last time about how Hover is a fantastic
way to get a unique domain just like my new Wendover.Productions domain but I want to
stress this time how professional a custom email address is. For $5 for the entire year, I set up an email
ending in to forward to my existing business email. Not only is this email much more memorable,
it also oozes professionalism. Surely that’s worth the $5 that you’d
otherwise spend on 1/160th of an ETOPS flight to London, right? Anyways, you can get a custom domain and email
from Hover for 10% off, while simultaneously supporting Wendover Productions by going to and using the code “Wendover”

Only registered users can comment.

  1. So apologies for the slightly shorter and perhaps less refined video than usual! In the last month there's been 5 days when I haven't been traveling which means less time to make videos. The good news is that a lot of that travel was to make videos.

    Also please be sure to check out the video's sponsor, Hover, with the link in the description! The sponsors truly make the videos happen (along with Patreon supporters) so be sure to show them some love.

  2. Just imagine being on the flight that was discussed on the video. If you happened to have the map open right when the captain announced you would have to divert, Hawaii doesn't seem to be that far away either.. but instead of Hawaii, we'll divert to Cold Bay, Alaska!

  3. 7:05 “boeing and airbuses largest jets, the 747 and the a380 are their only 4 engine planes in production
    a340: am i a joke to you?

  4. I dislike ETOPS over the arctic, it is more risky if you are forced down over a jagged ice field than over the ocean. The water landing on the Hudson River was the best outcome.More chance of a fire and airframe break up, and it is minus 60 outside if you survive the impact and fire. The Canadian government already proven beyond doubt they have no rescue capability up north.They have recovery capability!So far, we have not lost any plane yet, who wants to be first??

  5. Couldn't they just convert those large 4 engine planes into cargo planes? Unlike passengers, there is always plenty of cargo to fill up any large jumbo jet.

  6. ETOPS is about economics. In the days of 3 or 4 engines, flying was more dignified, you are served real meals and cabin crew were more attentive. These planes have space and plenty of that. With ETOPS now you have low cost or cheapskate airlines crossing the pond. You get crammed in narrower and slower planes. Cabin crew is there just to man the doors and service is non-existent. Of course, the fares are much cheaper, inflation adjusted. Sigh, I miss the old days

  7. Kind of a shame that when you go to an airport nowadays you see only a handful of different airlines. I was born in 95 but remember as early as 2000 there still being 727, shit ton of 747s, and I remember seeing the Concorde at jfk one time too

  8. ı stıll thınk to thıs day that 3 engıned planes stıll have some purpouse ın thıs world! 3 jet planes ın betwenn the sıze of a 727 to a md 11 can have a change ın the market sınce they can have no threat to fly super long routes and super short routes. they can fly faster too! as the AA comercıal saıd about the dc 10: almost as large as a 747 yet able to fly at any comercıal aırport. plus the plane wıll have more seats to fıll up yet gettıng some space. thıs can also lower over bookıng! ı rest my case on 3 engıne aırcraft.

  9. This video also proves the earth is round. The Sydney to Santiago route would never be more than 60 minutes from a diversion airport if flat earth dummies theories had any value as the shortest distance on any flat earth model goes up To Japan and then down the Coast of North and South America. The Distance on a Flat Earth map of the shortest route on a globe is outside of the range of a 787. I would think that would be obvious to anyone watching this video or channel but just in case it ever comes up… Sydney to Santiago flights are full proof.

  10. 7:09 Actually, the A380's production will be canceled in 2021. Haha, sucks for you, Airbus! The 747's still in production!

  11. Remember the certification might be for ETOPS 120/180. But in most cases the actual distance might not be that far. There is a point called equal time point. Point where the flight time and distance is equal to go back to let’s say back to Europe or press on to Canada side. Occasionally even a US coastal city can be used as ETOPS airport if the routing is right.

  12. More like basically that means that Boeing will get higher etops times because the faa are biased Yankee cunts and hate giving anything To way better manufacturers because then their kiss ass Yankee cunt Boeing would be sad

  13. Boeing simply acted the way any company would if they only had one other competitor and that competitor wasn't able to handle the extra volume… Capitalism at it's finest…

  14. Currently studying ATPL flight planning and couldn't grasp this by reading just text. Thanks for the video. Was a big help. Am I correct to say that for a 2 engine aircraft the entry point of etops don't begin until 60min away from an adequate aerodrome? not the assigned 120min 180min whatever. That is only after you leave the area of 60 mins right?

  15. It's interesting to see how older or poorer airlines still operate these old four engines planes. Take my home country's airline, South African Airways. Almost all of the long haul fleet are A340s, with the exception of a few newer A330s. Since the fares were always cheaper, the thought of using a twin-engined plane for anything but domestic flights seemed impossible to me.

  16. Twin engine jets cant fly 60 mins or more further away from a diversion airport

    Singapore airlines with an A350ULR flying 18 hours: allow us to introduce ourselves

  17. Forgive me for my ignorance but could I fly a 4 engine jet long haul and just idle 2 of the engines to save fuel.

  18. "low demand like Melbourne-Santiago" – i've flow to Santiago numerous times and the Australia/NZ flights are ALWAYS full dude… they aren't 'low demand' routes by any stretch. Low demand would be bumfuck Alabama and marryurcousin Oklahoma that have to be flown on subsidized routes that cost $2 each and flow in Embraer 145s…..

  19. the flight BA 001 from London City to JFK has a stop over at Shannon in Ireland due to them not being able to takeoff with fuel at London City

  20. Great video. The only thing I didn't like was the portraying of regulatory body as villains. They took the decisions for public safety. We all know that public safety cannot be left in the hands of corporations. In the absence of regulators, both plane manufacturers and airlines will ignore safety in favour of profit. Case and point 737 max, where they exploited a loophole and got away with fewer regulatory checks, killing hundreds.

  21. This video explains something that’s been puzzling me for a while – I recently saw a video showing a small BA twin engine plane landing at London City Airport, having apparently flown direct from the USA! I was puzzled for two reasons, firstly that a small plane could fly that length of journey and secondly, that it was now apparently permissible for a twin engined plane to cross the Atlantic. This video has answered my queries – thank you!

  22. Should we not question why the FAA (an american organisation) can determine whether or not flights can happen between Australia and Chili? I mean I understand it partly, but why doesn't it make sense for either of those countries to say fuck it, if your planes are so much safer than the FAA thinks, and we want some piece of that global economy, just do it.

  23. I flew from boston to ireland on a dc 10 with full cargo
    felt like a gaw dang brick when we landed then a 130 to kuwait … kill me…. the middle easterners could not!

  24. The London City to New York flight from BA (BA001, I think) stops in Shannon first. It's a direct flight, but there is a stopover. You clear US customs in Shannon, though, so when you get off in NYC you can walk straight out.

  25. ETOPS has now changed to extended diversion time operations (EDTO). It no longer applies to twin engine aircraft as the 747-8 was the first aircraft to be granted 330 mins EDTO due to the cargo fire suppression system. It is about system redundancies and back ups on aircrafts and not just about how many engines anymore. Great video though, keep it coming 🙂

  26. Dammit, you are talking like a millenial ;-). Since when did a postal route (Pronounced r-oo-t) become rout (pronounced "rowt") which is a groove made in wood with a rotary tool, for example ( a real router) or the complete vanquishing of an enemy in war. Computer routers (pronounce "rooters" and airplane "routes" pronounced 'roots" should be prounounced as they were for years, when English was more carefully used, and less abused. Why mix up a pattern of traffic (a route, (root) with the word for overwhelming victory in a battle ? Indeed. So please let us go back to our roots, and pronounce the word route the same way, and not resort to warfaire 😉

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