Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal. If these new proposed rules are adopted it looks like the end for older long range jets.
By Andy PasztorTHE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 28 — Aviation-industry leaders are proposing tougher rules for jetliners to further enhance the safety of the swelling number of long flights over water or polar regions, according to people familiar with the matter.
THE SUGGESTED regulations, subject to approval by the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign regulators, call for applying a common set of safety standards to every type of aircraft used on these challenging routes. The proposal covers factors ranging from engine reliability, to onboard fire-fighting and communications equipment, to the adequacy of emergency landing strips along the way.
The effort has been particularly contentious because if the changes go into effect as drafted, some older U.S.-registered aircraft and many more long-range, wide-body planes operated by foreign airlines would face expensive refurbishment, industry officials said.
The package breaks important ground in other ways, too. It is the first time an FAA-sponsored advisory committee — representing manufacturers, engine makers, airlines and pilots — has reached consensus on a fundamental issue that has divided the industry for years. After 18 months of sharp debate, the group agreed that all commercial jets, regardless of their age or number of engines, should adhere to comparable safety standards when crossing vast and uninhabited stretches of the globe. The FAA previously signaled it would likely embrace a unified industry position.
Today, even specially maintained two-engine planes such as Boeing Co.’s 777 must comply with tighter operational requirements and typically carry more-advanced safety equipment than three-engine and four-engine models. On lengthy trans-Pacific flights lasting 14 hours or more, for instance, some twinjets carry enough fire-retardant gas in their cargo holds to last nearly four hours, while older three- and four-engine planes are required to have only about one-third as much.
Nonetheless, twinjets are restricted in how far they can fly from potential places to put down in an emergency. By contrast, three- and four-engine aircraft, even those built decades earlier and lacking state-of-the-art safety hardware, can fly almost any route, regardless of how far they stray from emergency strips
Such distinctions have been at the center of a long-running marketing and regulatory dispute. Boeing consistently has advocated “a level playing field” entailing comparable equipment standards for all aircraft, while European rival Airbus has resisted changes that would impose additional safety burdens on its long-range, four-engine A340 and other Airbus models.
However, all of that may change as a result of the breakthrough in recommending regulations. Participants in the deliberations have declined to release details, and the final document may not become public until the fall. Getting regulators to approve the rules could take much longer, given new models with ever-longer ranges and heightened carrier interest in flights stretching as long as 18 hours over desolate polar territories or vast stretches of ocean.
Since extended, twin-engine jets operating over water “have been held to higher standards of safety than other” aircraft, “it is now time to re-examine those requirements” and perhaps “apply them to all airplanes,” according to Chet Ekstrand, Boeing’s point man in this debate, who declined to elaborate about the proposal. Airbus also has a representative on the advisory group.
To a large extent, safety lessons gleaned from Boeing’s 777, the most-advanced and reliable twin-engine aircraft flying extended routes, would be used to improve the safety margins of three- and four-engine planes built in the U.S. and Europe and frequently still operating under 1960s-vintage safeguards. Mandates for older models, among other things, envision installation of upgraded fire-suppression systems and replacement of conventional radios with the latest satellite-communication links. Four-engine Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s, along with MD-11s and DC-10s that have three engines, would be subject to more-stringent rules regarding the status of other equipment. But those planes will continue to have more leeway to follow routes far away from landing strips.
Reducing the hazards of such flying is hardly a theoretical exercise
During the past seven years, at least 27 jumbo jets made so-called diversions, or unscheduled landings, at mid-Pacific emergency strips, due to a variety of mechanical, weather or medical problems. But many aviation experts worry that numerous standby fields in Alaska, Russia and elsewhere may be unsuitable due to extreme cold, fierce winds, frequent winter storms that cause poor visibility, and lack of emergency trucks or other equipment.
Boeing’s 777 would get a boost by having to carry a bit less reserve fuel than it does now, thereby allowing it to carry more passengers on certain Pacific routes; eventually 777s could fly as far as four hours from emergency strips, or 16% farther than under current limits.