In recent months, we have seen how airlines such as Iberia, British Airways, or Qantas are withdrawing their four-engine A340 / 600 aircraft. At the same time, Boeing announced by 2022 the end of the manufacture of the B747. A legendary four-engine.
The tendency to reduce the number of aircraft engines has its origins several years ago. A trend that the aviation sector has accentuated in the last year with the fall in traffic experienced due to the coronavirus crisis.
Why are aircraft with four engines retired?
Until well into the 1980s, to cross any ocean or remote area of the planet, an airplane with three or four engines was needed as a way of increasing safety in the face of any contingency.
In fact, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established as a safety standard that a twin-engine plane could not move away at any point on its route more than 60 minutes away from an alternative airport.
This was because there were doubts about the reliability of the aircraft with only two engines to ensure the safety that the crew and passengers could reach the ground safely in the event of a mishap in one of the engines.
Airplanes with four engines, such as the Airbus 340/600, have been until 2011 the passenger aircraft with the longest range, up to 14,600 kilometers of autonomy, and within all established standards.
The technological advancement experienced in recent years, with larger and more powerful engines while being more efficient in fuel consumption, allowed the configuration of twin-engine aircraft with greater range and total safety in operation, significantly reducing consumption.
What is the ETOPS regulation?
ETOPS, an English acronym for Extended-range Twin-engine Operation Performance Standards, is the standard that allows validating the reliability of an aircraft equipped with two engines to move away at a certain distance from any airport, since in the event of failure in one of its engines could fly without problems to an alternative airport located at the maximum distance that its ETOPS certification allows.
This is especially important on transoceanic flights where distances to a runway in an emergency can be significant.
The more reliable the motorization that equips a certain aircraft model, the greater the possibility of obtaining an ETOPS 60, 120, 180 certification …
That is, the time expressed in flight minutes that can be taken away from an aerodrome. This is important when designing routes, since higher ETOPS means a route less subject to staying in relative proximity to an aerodrome with the consequent savings in time and fuel that it may represent.
The Airbus 350 has an ETOPS of 370 minutes, that is, it can be six hours from any alternative airport.
This translates to practically unrestricted flying around the world.
The use of twin-engine aircraft also allows operators to reduce costs not only in terms of fuel, but also in the volume of spare parts required to provide adequate maintenance and associated costs.
Farewell to the Airbus A340
The Airbus A340, both in its 300 and 600 versions, has been the most successful since, together with the aforementioned Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet”, it has been for decades the pillar on which companies supported their long-range flights. Its four engines guaranteed safety on long and medium-haul routes with high occupancy.
Welcome to the A350
With the A350 comes the generational change. The Airbus 350 is the bet for double-aisle aircraft designed for long-haul flights. This model represents a saving in operating costs, thanks to the new engines and the latest generation materials. With capacity for more than 300 passengers in two classes and a range of 10,100 kilometers, it is, together with its direct competitor the Boeing 487 Dreamliner, the future bet for the long-haul routes of airlines around the world.