LONDON – Today in Aviation marks the 23rd anniversary of the first non-stop twin-engine transpacific flight between mainland China and the United States.
China Southern Airlines’ (CZ) historic flight was completed using the General Electric GE-90 powered Boeing 777-200IGW (Increased Gross Weight) aircraft.
The First Twin-engine Transpacific ETOPS
The 14-hour flight between Guangzhou and Los Angeles came about following approval by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in May 1997 for the 180-minute extended-range (ETOPS) twin-engine operations.
ETOPS was normally the more essential on the way back go Guangzhou as the aircraft would be flying into the wind as opposed to it carrying the plane forward.
Paul Fang, the Boeing Director for International Sales in China at the time said things went very well on that first flight.
“There were no problems. We’re quite optimistic that this is the beginning of a lot more of this sort of ETOPS operation with the 777 across the Pacific,” said Fang.
The GE-90s used on the aircraft were very popular and still are to this day, offering dispatch reliability of 99.48% back in 1997.
This was ultimately beneficial for airlines who wanted to do non-stop and far longer flights as Pilots can divert to anywhere as far as three hours away.
Upon its landing in Los Angeles (LAX), the aircraft became the first twin-engine to cross the Pacific Ocean and also fly to the U.S. from China.
The Reach of China and the Rise of Twin-Engine
At the time, Chet Ekstrand, Boeing’s former VP was in Los Angeles back in 1997 and praised China Southern for its role in this.
“China Southern is once again playing a leadership role as a pioneer in the aviation development of Asia.”
It could have also been argued at the time that thanks to ETOPS being approved on twin-engine aircraft, it was a contributing factor towards the demise of the quad-engined aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A340 & A380.
Aircraft nowadays such as the A350, Boeing 787, and the 777X can now fly far further than previous editions of aircraft have done in the past.
A Blessing in Disguise
Back in 2014, EASA approved the Airbus A350XWB for a 370 minutes ETOPS range, definitely preserving the view that any other older aircraft doing the same flights would not have been able to manage it sufficiently.
Overall, Extended Range Twin Operations were a blessing in disguise for many airlines that had taken on aircraft such as the Boeing 777, as later versions of the aircraft would prove that the twin-engine world became the new generation of aviation globetrotters.
The Sky is The Limit
Having started out at 60 minutes as per Federal Aviation Administration guidelines in the ’50s to 370 minutes in 2020, it also begs the question of how much further it could go.
Only time will tell in that perspective, and whether it would be needed looking towards the A350-900 Ultra Long Range variants and beyond.
For now, it is suffice to say that ETOPS was a fine element of engineering.