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06:12 PM ET 01/21/00

FAA to extend range for Boeing 777 twinjet

By Chris Stetkiewicz

SEATTLE, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday it plans to let Boeing Co. 777 twin-jets stray further from shore on Pacific routes, trimming flight time for 777 operators. The decision, published in Friday's Federal Register, will likely help the 777 wide-body compete against the four-engine Airbus Industrie [ARBU.CN] A340, which has no restrictions on its distance from shore. "It's good news for the triple-seven and particularly for operators of the triple-seven," said Boeing spokesman John Dern. Airlines represented by the Air Transit Association had asked the FAA in February 1999 to let the 777 travel up to 207 minutes in flight time from the nearest airport, up from the current limit of 180 minutes, in place since 1988. Without the extension carriers would otherwise be forced to fly longer, shore-hugging routes from the U.S. West Coast to Asia on days when emergency airports in remote locations in Alaska or the Pacific islands were unavailable. The FAA has allowed 45 more days for additional comments and will enact the new rule on March 21 unless new arguments show reason for modification, the FAA said in its report. 

The Allied Pilots Association union, which suggested that the proposal was intended to help market the 777, said changes were unnecessary since the current rules only affect a small number of flights, the FAA filing showed. The FAA rejected the notion that the safety decisions were driven by marketing concerns, saying safety advances warranted the change in ETOPS, or extended range twin-engine operations, rules. Airbus, which angered Boeing officials last year with an ad campaign suggesting twin-engine jets were less safe than four-engine jets, argued that the proposed rule could increase the risks on trans-Pacific flights. "Some people may want to say that this is no different than twins flying across the Atlantic, but the distances are much farther apart and the weather conditions are different," said David Venz, vice president for communications at Airbus North America. The FAA agreed to better explain its risk analyses in the future but said it was confident that the 777 was capable of operating safely under an extended 207-minute ETOPS limit. Airbus also argued that no precedent existed for the proposed 15 percent extension. The FAA noted that 32 of 44 respondents supported the 15 percent figure. Airbus's Venz said the European consortium was disappointed that the FAA had not conducted a broader debate on the proposed change. "We are not just on the face of it opposed to twins across the Pacific or twins flying anywhere. We build our own twins, too," Venz said. Venz said he was not sure if Airbus would file additional comments before the 45-day deadline on March 7. Airbus and the APA also voiced concern that extending ETOPS might render some emergency or "diversion" airports redundant, causing their closure and thereby reducing safety. The FAA disagreed, noting that most of the diversion airports in use under the 180-minute guidelines would still be used under the 207-minute limit, though the FAA supported steps to ensure all emergency airports remain available. The FAA also noted that three- and four-engine planes had higher rates of diversion than ETOPS planes and that only carriers currently holding 180-minute ETOPS certificates would be considered for extension and only in the North Pacific. Introduced in 1995, the 777 has found a market niche between Boeing's jumbo 416-seat 747 and the 250-seat 767, which both run on four engines. The 777 seats up to 394 passengers and, along with the 767, competes with Airbus's A330 twin-jet and A340 quad-jet, which seat up to 380 passengers.

 

 

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