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Can an airplane really fly with one engine?

Not only is an airliner able to fly with one engine, but it has even become a requirement. Since 1985, the International Civil Aviation Organization has introduced ETOPS certification (extended range twin-engine operations). It allows jets to carry out, under certain conditions, long-haul flights over uninhabited areas (in particular the oceans) with a single engine in operation.

In concrete terms, this certification requires twin-engine aircraft that depart more than an hour from an airport to be able to reach a diversion airport within a given time in the event of a breakdown of one of their engines. There are several levels of certifications depending on the type of aircraft. For example, if an aircraft is ETOPS-180 certified, it means that it has the capacity to reach an airport in less than 180 minutes with a single engine. This certification ranges from 120 minutes for regional propeller aircraft such as the ATR 42 up to 370 minutes for the Airbus A350.

In other words, the A350 is authorized to fly with one engine for more than six hours. Since 2012, the ETOPS standard has been extended to four-engine aircraft.

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Even without engines, an airplane can continue to fly for a greater or lesser distance depending on its speed and altitude. This ability to glide is called finesse. The greater the glide ratio, the greater its ability to hover. To measure it, simply divide the distance traveled by the height traveled. An airplane that travels 10,000 meters losing 1,000 meters will therefore have a glide ratio of 10. Airliners generally have glide ratios between 15 and 22. The glide ratio of a glider can go up to 70.

For example and to demonstrate the safety of the Caravelle, Air France made a gliding flight between Paris and Dijon in 1959. Over a distance of 265 kilometers, the aircraft had descended 11,600 meters, or a glide ratio of 22.


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