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Recently or rather not so recently I read about a regulation (possibly FAA but I am not sure and possibly old) that the wide body jets have to always be within a 2 hour flight from an airport capable of receiving it, so in light of that has that regulation changed or simply being ignored by airlines when flying near North Pole for flights from New York to Beijing?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 17 down vote accepted

You're a little off, but if you Google for ETOPS you'll find the details on what you're referring to.

In short, twin-engine planes (eg, 737, 767, 777, A320, A330, etc) were originally required to remain at all times within 60 minutes of a suitable airport where they could land. This was done so that in the event of an engine failure they could land as soon as possible so as to significantly reduce the chances of the second engine failing. Quad-engine planes (747, A340) did not have any similar restrictions due to their ability to lose at least 2 engines and still remain flying.

As engine reliability improved, and as the twin-engine planes started to prove their reliability, the FAA (and other similar organizations around the world) brought in a classification called "Extended Twin Operations", or ETOPS, which allowed for certain approved aircraft, being flown by approved airlines, to fly further distances from an airport. There are a number of different ETOPS ratings, such as ETOPS-120 (120 minutes from an airport), ETOPS-180, ETOPS-207 (180+15%), and now even ETOPS-330 which allows certain Boeing 777's to be up to 5 1/2 hours from their nearest airport!

Airlines without ETOPS ratings will sometimes need to take alternate routes in order to stay within 60 minutes of an airport. eg, when Virgin Australia (Virgin Blue at the time) started flying Sydney-Perth they had to take a much more northern route in order to stay within 60 minutes of an airport, where rival Qantas could take a more southerly/shorter route as their planes were ETOPS rated.

(For a good story on what can happen when both engines on a twin-jet fail, Google for details of the "gimli glider")

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Saw the result of a similar landing first hand on the Hudson –  Karlson Apr 20 '12 at 23:07

The Great Circle Mapper will show you ETOPS on the world map, along with the proper great-circle routes that planes fly.

For instance, New York to Hong Kong over the pole does go through a region that is outside of ETOPS-120 for a 410 knots plane -- it's the dark blue section of ocean. So they would either need to fly a route that avoids that patch, or be certified longer than ETOPS-120.

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