Meaning of ETOPS and How it Works

At Sheffield School of Aeronautics, we offer a one day ETOPS course immediately following the completion of the Advanced International Flight Planning Course. This course is designed for those who may want to work for an airline that operates over isolated routes that don’t have common emergency landing options.

ETOPS means Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards. It is a certification that permits twin engine aircraft to fly routes which may, at the time, be 60 minutes flying time from the nearest airport that is suitable for an emergency landing. The other meaning of ETOPS is also the more informally known: Engines Turn or Passengers Swim.

What is ETOPS?

Early combustion engines were highly unreliable, and it was not uncommon for a 4-engine piston aircraft to show up at the airport with only 3 of its engines working. As a result, the twin engine aircraft were required to fly beeline paths to remain in range of an adequate airport. Aircraft that had more than two engines were not restricted by this rule of flight paths. Because of this, many transatlantic flights were flown by Boeing airliners since they can fly more direct routes. Flight plans had to accommodate these restrictions and flight dispatcher training centered around this idea.  

As time went on, aviation engineers slowly realized that jet engines are much more reliable than the piston counterpart. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began to approve flights with twin engines 120 minutes away from an accommodating airport. This new policy was now twice as long as the previous time requirement. It made twin engine aircraft more popular since their fuel efficiency is much better than a 4-engine aircraft. It also changed the way dispatcher schools trained their students as flight plans now had the option for greater flexibility.

ETOPS Certification

There is a set of standards that ETOPS certification requires both the aircraft and airline to comply with. For the aircraft, the manufacturer must demonstrate that flying with one engine is relatively manageable by the flight crew, safe for the airframe, and an extremely rare occurrence. The airline then must showcase that the flight crew’s training and maintenance procedures are up to high standards. For this reason, pilots, engineers, and aircraft dispatchers must have the proper certification.

Many flight operators are adopting the ETOPS approach as opposed to non-ETOPS routes since they realized that having the certification significantly improves reliability, performance, and aircraft dispatch rates. The price of the certification is offset later on by reduced maintenance costs, as well as the costs that are associated with diversions, delays, and turn backs.

The importance and meaning of ETOPS came to light when the first ETOPS certification was given to Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1985. In this same year the FAA began allowing twin engine aircraft an extension up to 120 minutes from nearest appropriate airport. In 1988, it was again extended to a 180-minute maximum. Today, this has increased to a 240-minute ETOPS rule, but it is only approved in certain circumstances. All aircraft must be ETOPS certified and approved by the FAA first.

At Sheffield School of Aeronautics, we offered our first ETOPS class on July 11, 1992. This date makes us one of the first aircraft dispatcher schools, aside from the major airlines, to offer this form of advanced aviation training. If you are looking to become ETOPS certified, we offer courses throughout the year. Look for more information on course schedules and pricing today!


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