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ETOPS authorization. U.S. regulation 14 CFR 121.161 and associated preamble and advisory material have been revised to:

Note that 207-minute ETOPS is not subject to the new ETOPS requirements for "beyond-180-minute flight operations." Flown since 2000, this authority arose as a 15 percent operational extension, for limited use on an exception basis, to 180-minute ETOPS authority. It is thus considered an extension of and subject to the requirements for the traditional 180-minute "twinjet ETOPS" diversion authority.

Cargo fire suppression. To further ensure safety, new regulation 14 CFR 121.633 requires that all time-limited ETOPS significant systems aboard airplanes flying ETOPS shall have sufficient capability to protect the airplane throughout the longest potential diversion for that route. In particular, each flight shall have continuous cargo fire suppression capability for a period equivalent to the maximum planned diversion time plus an additional 15 minutes.

ETOPS twinjets have been required since 1985 to carry sufficient fire suppressant to protect the airplane continuously throughout a maximum-duration diversion. In contrast, although all jetliners have cargo fire suppression systems, airplanes with more than two engines have not previously had to meet this requirement that further protects passengers, crews, and airplanes on extended air routes.

For ETOPS at or below 180 minutes, which only involves twinjets, this cargo fire suppression requirement is based on maximum diversion time in still air plus 15 minutes, as was previously the case. For ETOPS beyond 180 minutes, which involves twinjets and three- and four-engine passenger airplanes, this requirement is to be calculated at all-engines-operating cruise speed, corrected for winds and temperature.

While cargo fire suppression is generally the most time-limited ETOPS significant system, it is just one of many such systems that contribute to safety during flight. For operations beyond 180 minutes, this regulation also requires that airline planning for diversions account for all other time-limited ETOPS significant systems calculating diversion times at one-engine-inoperative cruise speed, corrected for wind and temperature.

Three- and four-engine ETOPS operators are granted until February 15, 2013, to bring their existing fleets into compliance with the cargo fire suppression requirement. This six-year grace period serves to mitigate operator costs by allowing system upgrades to be performed during regularly scheduled airplane heavy-maintenance cycles. It also provides time for manufacturers to develop and certify this upgraded capability in their airplanes.

Communications. Regulations 14 CFR 121.99 and 121.122 (for supplemental operations) require the adoption of a satellite communication (SATCOM) voice system for ETOPS beyond 180 minutes of an alternate airport. Whereas other communication systems (e.g., VHF, HF, and SATCOM or HF datalink) have limitations that can compromise the reliability of communications during extended operations, SATCOM voice allows clear and immediate conversation that can quickly convey the situation and needs of a flight.

This requirement for satellite-based voice communications will ensure that ETOPS flight crews can communicate emergency situations with air traffic control or their airline throughout a long-range ETOPS flight. Alternative means of communication must also be available in the event that this most reliable means does not work for any reason. To mitigate compliance costs, a one-year grace period ending February 15, 2008, is provided.

Definitions. Many of the terms used in this ETOPS rule are unique to extended operations and demand precise interpretation to ensure common understanding and proper compliance. New regulation 14 CFR 121.7 provides these definitions.

A noteworthy change is the addition of the term "ETOPS alternate airport," which is an adequate airport (i.e., one appropriate for the airplane type) that meets the stated requirements for planned diversion use and is listed in the certificate holder's operations specifications. The weather conditions at these airports are checked at dispatch or flight release, and again in flight, to determine whether they are at or above the operating minimums specified for a safe landing and can thus serve as an alternate for that flight.

"ETOPS alternate" thus replaces the former ETOPS term "suitable airport," which denoted an alternate airport that was both above required weather minimums and available for diversion use. Under the new ETOPS rule, "suitable" no longer has an ETOPS-specific meaning. Therefore, where it appears in the new ETOPS rule, it is to be interpreted only according to its broadly accepted everyday meaning.

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