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ETOPS stands for Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards, a rule which permits twin engine aircraft to fly routes which, at some point, are more than 60 minutes flying time away from the nearest airport suitable for emergency landing.

However, it does not mean that a non-ETOPS plane physically cannot fly an ETOPS route, as American Airlines proved when they accidentally used a non-ETOPS certified plane to operate ETOPS-required LAX-HNL route. Everything went well except the cancelled return flight.

So, what is the difference between an ETOPS certified plane and a non-ETOPS certified plane when they are the same model?

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  • $\begingroup$ I believe the constraint is related to how far they can fly with an engine out, not how far they can fly when everything works... :) $\endgroup$ – falstro Oct 8 '15 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ I get that, and I think OP does too, @falstro, the question is what's the difference between an ETOPS-certified A321 and a non-ETOPS-certified A321? (or maybe that's what the smilie was for...) $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Oct 8 '15 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Yeah I get that. The wording of the second paragraph might lead someone to think that it has something to do with the range of a twin. As if there was surprise that a twin could physically fly the distance, since AAL proved it by accident (if they indeed proved it by accident, I'd like to know how the f--- they do their fuel calculations...) :) Oh hey, that wording was yours btw. Didn't see that. $\endgroup$ – falstro Oct 8 '15 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ I am don't know the answer but one thing I heard mentioned before is the need for special maintenance procedures and specially trained engineering staff. Maybe AA saves some money by maintaining only some aircrafts to this standard? Basically it would be the same plane but some things like the APU weren't checked as thoroughly as frequently as on ETOPS-certified planes. $\endgroup$ – Relaxed Oct 8 '15 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ The number of statutory requirements they satisfy - extra safety details (analogous to insurance). $\endgroup$ – digitgopher Oct 8 '15 at 22:48
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The FAA ETOPS certification requires certain standards from both the airline (the operator) and the aircraft (the manufacturer).

As far as the manufacturers are concerned, the ETOPS certification is given for a particular aircraft-engine combination satisfying certain requirements. The FAA ETOPS Rules Section A deals with the Airplane-Engine Type Design Approval. According to the document, the type approval involves a two step process:

First, the FAA determines that airplane systems meet certain design standards for safe operations during an airplane diversion.

Some of these requirements are:

  • The aircraft should have at least three independent electrical generators.

  • The auxiliary power unit (APU) (when required) can start after the airplane has been cold-soaked for several hours and can run reliably for the remainder of the flight.

  • System safety analyses have to show that expected system failures will not prevent safe landing at a diversion airport.

  • Systems with time-limited capabilities (typically cargo fire suppression) need to have the capacity to support a maximum-length diversion, including a 15-minute allowance for a hold or go-around at the diversion airport

The second part of the approval process is an evaluation of engine in- flight shutdowns and other significant airplane system failures that have occurred while the airplane-engine combination has been in service.

The aircraft-engine combination should have at least 250,000 engine-hours for evaluation, though this can be reduced with compensating factors. The airplane-engine combination should maintain a target IFSD (In Flight Shut Down, defined as "When an engine ceases to function (when the airplane is airborne) and is shut down, however briefly, whether self induced, flightcrew initiated or caused by an external influence.") rate at or below 0.02 per 1,000 engine-hours for 180min ETOPS approval.

The manufacturer should also demonstrate that flying with OEI doesn't cause undue stresses to the aircrew and is safe for the airframe.

The ETOPS design approval has to be applied for with the FAA and obtained after the relevant processes. Thus, the same aircraft will not have ETOPS approval if the engine is different or even the same aircraft-engine combination won't have ETOPS approval if used by another airline or if no certification was sought.

There is another method of getting ETOPS approval called the 'early' ETOPS approval which

...takes a systems approach to the development of an airplane and engine. ... an applicant must demonstrate that the design flaws on previously designed airplanes are not present in the new airplane. The applicant must also consider how the maximum length flight and diversion affect the design and function of airplane systems to ensure that they have the capability and reliability for safe ETOPS flight.

After being ETOPS certified, the airplane-engine combination and the operator are under continuous monitoring with the certificate being withdrawn in case of lapses or if the IFSD rate goes above the target rate and the manufacturer's corrective action does not eliminate the unsafe condition.

As far as the LAX-Hawaii incident is concerned, according to American Airlines Spokesman, both aircraft (the 'correct' ETOPS airplane, A321H and the wrong one sent, A321S) had the same configuration, but

There are two small differences in terms of equipment to allow ETOPS certification. Since you can’t divert for medical [on a Hawaii bound flight], you’re required to carry extra medical oxygen on board and an extra fire suppression canister

There are also reports that the (ETOPS certified) A321H has extra fuel tanks, which the (non ETOPS certified) A321S didn't have, though the AA spokesperson had said that the fuel tanks and range were the same.

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    $\begingroup$ So what's the difference between an ETOPS certified A321 and a non-ETOPS certified A321 of the same airline? $\endgroup$ – Simon Oct 8 '15 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Simon From Guardian "There are two small differences in terms of equipment to allow Etops certification. Since you can’t divert for medical [on a Hawaii bound flight], you’re required to carry extra medical oxygen on board and an extra fire suppression canister". Also the (ETOPS certified) 321H is supposed to have extra fuel tanks, which the (non ETOPS certified) 321H didn't have. $\endgroup$ – aeroalias Oct 8 '15 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ @aeroalias This ought to be added to the answer as this is really what the question is about, and not so much type certification or ETOPS generally. $\endgroup$ – Relaxed Oct 8 '15 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ IFSD = In Flight Shut Down? If so, may want to add that in. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Oct 8 '15 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Relaxed The FAA ETOPS Rules (which I've linked) Section B lists some extra maintenance requirements, like different MEL (exrta generator etc.), engine condition monitoring (oil consumption etc.) and in-flight APU restart program. $\endgroup$ – aeroalias Oct 9 '15 at 15:56

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