EVOLUTION OF THE NEW RULE
Jetliner range capabilities have grown dramatically over the decades. This trend has allowed flight operations to increasingly traverse remote areas of the world where the airplane is at times far from an airport. By the latter 1990s, the global aviation community recognized that the operational protections and reliability enhancements of ETOPS, which then applied just to twinjets, could also further enhance the safety and reliability of three- and four-engine airplanes when flying routes with the potential for an extended-duration diversion.
All airplanes flying extended routes contend with similar operating challenges in terms of weather, terrain, and limitations in navigation and communications infrastructure. Thus, the dual ETOPS philosophy of precluding diversions and also protecting them if they do occur is applicable to all extended operations, not just those performed with two-engine airplanes.
Pursuing this higher and more uniform standard, the FAA in June of 2000 created an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) to review the ETOPS record and recommend how ETOPS requirements should be updated, standardized, and codified. Because the ETOPS program was then being administered via FAA advisory circulars, policy letters, and special conditions, this rulemaking would at last formalize extended operations directly in the federal aviation regulations as befits such large-scale operations.
The ARAC is a U.S. framework that relies on international participation. Its ETOPS Working Group gathered together 50 experts drawn from across the global aviation community. After two-and-a-half years of intensive effort, this ARAC delivered its findings and recommendations to the FAA on December 16, 2002. As the FAA noted, its report reflected an extraordinary degree of consensus about needed updates and improvements.
The FAA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on November 14, 2003, that was largely unchanged from the ARAC findings and recommendations. During an extended comment period, some 50 submissions were received from regulatory agencies, operators, manufacturers, and interested nongovernmental associations around the world. The FAA reviewed these public comments, acted on them as it deemed appropriate, and published a final rule on January 16, 2007. This ETOPS rule became effective 30 days later on February 15.
While the new ETOPS rule closely resembles the ARAC findings and recommendations, there are some differences. One is that three- and four-engine freighters are exempted from the rule because operators contended, and the FAA agreed, that the costs of compliance could not be justified in all-cargo operations.
Another difference is that, while three- and four-engine extended operations with passenger airplanes are subject to the new ETOPS rule, this fleet is exempted from the new rule's maintenance requirements. As explained in the rule's preamble:
"The FAA strongly believes that all operators would benefit from an ETOPS maintenance program. However, the FAA agrees with many of the commenters that the cost of implementing this new requirement for airplanes with more than two engines would be significant. The FAA has determined that this cost cannot be justified based on the current level of safety achieved by the combination of engine reliability and the engine redundancy of this fleet of airplanes."1
The final rule also differs from the NPRM with respect to polar area flight operations. Whereas the ARAC proposed making ETOPS requirements applicable within the North and South Poles (i.e., everything above 78 degrees north latitude and below 60 degrees south latitude), the FAA instead published a non-ETOPS polar policy in the rulemaking that formalizes requirements for polar operations and provides a uniform process for operators seeking polar route authority. This approach results in a similar outcome but through a slightly different regulatory mechanism.