FAA Revamps Rules for Long-Range Flights

WASHINGTON -- Federal aviation regulators will require jets that fly for hours over desolate oceans or polar regions where there are no airports to have a plan to take care of passengers and extinguish cargo fires in the event of an emergency.

The Federal Aviation Administration regulation, announced Monday, spells out rules under which the latest generation of long-range jets can fly virtually any route in the world, including over the South Pole.

Jets flying these routes must have the ability to extinguish cargo fires for as long as it takes to reach a diversion airport. In addition, airlines must have a plan to take care of passengers if a jet has to land at a remote airport. On some routes, a jet may be as far as 5 1/2 hours from a suitable emergency airport.

The frequency of long-range flights has grown more than fourfold since 1984. Last year, airlines scheduled nearly 16,000 flights a week that exceeded 3,000 miles. The Boeing 777-200LR has a flight range of 10,800 miles. Airbus' A340-500 can fly up to 10,300 miles.

The rule adds heightened maintenance standards at airlines flying long routes on jets with two engines.

"This is an extremely important new rule that will open up safe flights all around the world," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said.

The rule, which will take effect in 30 days, was mostly cheered by the airline industry, though some officials said they had not had time to digest the 296-page document.

At Boeing, officials were pleased with the timing of the new rule because it gives the manufacturer time to apply the rule to its new aircraft, the twin-engine 787, said Capt. Chester Ekstrand, Boeing's point man on long-range flight.

Airbus spokesman Clay McConnell said the company had participated in drafting the new rule and was generally supportive of it. The Airbus double-decker A380, which will be the largest passenger jet when it enters service, will be able to fly 9,200 miles.

The rule will give airlines flying long routes on twin-engine jets flexibility to select more efficient routes, said Basil Barimo, the Air Transport Association's vice president for operations and safety.

Twin-engine jets such as the 777 or the A330 have been able to fly routes as far as 3 1/2 hours away from an airport. Occasionally, those times are not enough to reach an emergency airport, so airlines must fly less direct routes.

The Air Line Pilots Association union said it was pleased with enhanced safety standards for passenger flights, but disagreed with the FAA's decision to exempt cargo jets from some of the requirements. "We are committed to one level of safety for both passenger carriers and cargo carriers," said Capt. Chris Beebe, vice president of ALPA.