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The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

The challenges of ultra long range operations


Air New Zealand’s inaugural service between Auckland and Chicago is scheduled to take place on November 30 this year. This will be the company’s first ultra-long range (ULR) city pair, and presents unique challenges to ensure safety standards are maintained at an equivalent or better level than current long-range operations. Greg Fallow explains.

Ultra Long Range is defined as an operation involving any sector between a specific city pair (A-B-A) in which the planned flight time exceeds 16 hours, taking into account mean wind conditions and seasonal changes. Such flights may have duty times ranging from 18 to 22 hours.

The first initial discussions regarding possibilities of ULR flight began in 1998 when Singapore Airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority Singapore (CAAS) first considered pioneering these long-range flights.

In late 2000 Airbus and Boeing undertook a joint initiative, in conjunction with the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), to ensure that the ultra-long range capability of their new generation aircraft (B777 and A340-500) would not be constrained. They conducted a series of global industry workshops to examine the issues and advance a way forward for these new operations that were to operate outside the normal prescriptive envelope for flight and duty times.

An essential requirement was that these operations maintain an equivalent or better level of safety than existing long-range operations.

Four FSF ULR workshops took place between 2001 and 2005, with a consensus approach arising from the third workshop in 2003 forming the basis for the first ULR flights from Singapore to Los Angeles in February 2004. By June the same year, Singapore Airlines was also operating direct flights between Singapore and New York with a time zone change of 12 hours.

The FSF workshops determined common approaches for ULR operations and developed a technical basis for operational and regulatory guidance through global multi-stakeholder consensus. Stakeholders included airline associations, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilot and cabin crew unions, scientific organisations and regulatory authorities.

The workshops were facilitated through a steering committee in which New Zealanders played a prominent part - Captain Bryan Wyness (then Manager Flight Operations, Air New Zealand), Captain Greg Fallow (representing IFALPA) and Professor Philippa Gander (Director of the Sleep Wake Research Centre at Massey University) contributed to the work of the steering committee and running of the workshop subgroups. The workshops each had approximately 90 invited delegates from 14 countries with each work shop subgroup (Operational Best Practices, Operational Validation Programmes, Global Regulatory Approaches and Research and Development) having input from each of the stakeholder groups.

A follow-up workshop took place in 2005 which refined the 2003 consensus in the light of operational experience obtained in ULR operations by Singapore Airlines on the Singapore-Los Angeles and Singapore-New York ULR city pairs.

The FSF workshops culminated in 2005 with recommended operational guidelines for the conduct of ULR operations. The ULR validation studies conducted on the Singapore Airlines flights confirmed that the FSF recommendations can help airlines worldwide to expand their operational envelope whilst maintaining safety standards comparable to, or better than, existing long-range operations.

These recommendations have since been closely adhered to by airlines whose operations exceed the normal regulatory flight time limits of 16 hours or duty periods over 18 hours.

The output of the FSF workshops went on to revise and update ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for both prescriptive and Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) approaches to managing flight and cabin crew fatigue, supported by comprehensive guidance material for operators and regulators. Further information can be found at https://www.icao.int/safety/fatiguemanagement/Pages/default.aspx

Some of the key requirements for ULR are:

  • Each ULR city pair must have separate regulatory approval.
  • Crew fatigue must be monitored and managed using a FRMS to ensure crew members operate at an adequate level of alertness and that safety levels are comparable or better than that experienced in long haul operations (flights between 12 to 16 hours flight time).
  • Operations must operate within specified departure windows to ensure take-off and landing does not occur during the window of circadian low.
  • Crews should be given guidance regarding in-flight rest patterns. These must be carefully managed to maximise sleep opportunities and ensure crew alertness levels are maintained at an acceptable level throughout the flight and are comparable to existing operations.
  • Rest requirements must be developed that take into account preparatory and recuperative rest (including sleep) that meet the modelled assumptions, or equivalent for pre-flight, inflight and post-flight rest. Crews must be acclimatised prior to commencement of outbound ULR flights.
  • Validation of the operational model and assumptions on which the ULR approval was granted is required during initial operations to confirm required levels of crew alertness and safety are achieved.

Air New Zealand should be well placed to manage these longer ULR flights due to their extensive experience with FRMS approaches to managing crew fatigue.

The company’s development of FRMS processes in the mid 1990’s was instrumental in providing leadership and direction that helped to develop some of the Flight Safety Foundation recommendations for ULR operations.

However, the challenges associated with ULR are significant, and all contingent situations which could arise must be addressed and planned for, including winter weather conditions at Chicago.

Air New Zealand established a ULR steering committee in October 2017 to initiate the planning required for direct flights between Auckland and Chicago. Subsequently, contractual generic requirements for ULR operations based on the FSF recommendations have been agreed between Air New Zealand and NZALPA, and a Special Scheduling Agreement (SSA) drafted for the Auckland – Chicago ULR city pair. This SSA has been agreed in principle subject to assessment by the Sleep Wake Research Centre at Massey University and regulatory approval by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Extensive bio-mathematical modelling of predicted crew alertness for a wide variety of scenarios has been completed, and guidance for crew members is being developed. A validation plan for initial operations is currently being finalised with the Sleep Wake Research Centre, who will also oversee and report on the validation study that will be conducted during initial operations.

The research centre was involved in the validation of the initial Singapore Airlines ULR operations in 2004 and has extensive experience in ULR research, including the development of a multi-airline data base project that includes data from four airlines on three continents.

The flight time from Chicago to Auckland is expected to be 16 hours 30 minutes, with a great circle distance of 7111 nautical miles. This is at the lower end of ULR and is relatively modest in terms of flight time.

The world’s longest flight in terms of flight time was the Qantas operated “Double Sunrise” from Perth to Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) (3052 nautical miles) with average flight times of around 28 hours using a Consolidated PBY Catalina. One of these flights remains the record holder for longest time airborne at 32 hours 9 minutes!

The Flight Safety Foundation recommended guidance for ULR operations can be found at https://www.flightsafety.org/fsd/fsd_aug-sept05.pdf

Former Air New Zealand B777 Captain, and a member of the Air New Zealand ULR Steering Committee Greg Fallow was directly involved in the Flight Safety Foundation Ultra Long Range (ULR) Workshops, as well as various ICAO Task Forces that developed new global Standards and Guidance material for fatigue management.

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