How Aircraft Are Designed to Operate During an Engine Failure

Jul 28, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Modern aircraft are by any measure extremely safe. However, on occasion issues do arise during flight, like engine failures. While they are rare, they do happen. The good news is that modern aircraft are designed to be able to operate safely even with an engine out.

Passengers on a recent Emirates flight experienced this firsthand. An A380 lost an engine 20 minutes into its flight from Toronto to Dubai and issued a PAN-PAN call (meaning a situation is urgent but does not necessarily pose an immediate danger to either passengers or the aircraft) to Air Traffic Control (ATC). The aircraft was able to dump fuel to reduce landing weight and then return safely to Toronto about two hours after take-off. While you might think that flying around for a couple of hours with an engine out is a bad idea, the reality of the situation is that the aircraft is designed and tested to do just that, and do it safely.

While the A380 is equipped with four engines, most modern aircraft fly with only two. But even twin-engine planes are designed to be able to take off, fly and land safely with only one engine in operation.

That’s because most modern twin-engine commercial aircraft have an Extended-Range Twin-Engine Operational Performance Standard (ETOPS) rating. ETOPS means that the aircraft is certified to fly on a single engine safely for a specified period of time denoted in minutes: ETOPS 60, ETOPS 120, with some aircraft certified for ETOPS 180 and even 240. The ETOPS flight time allows aircraft to fly more direct routes between city pairs rather than having to route to stay within a close flying time of a safe diversion airport.

So, if you’re on a flight and your aircraft experiences the lost of a single engine, assuming the loss wasn’t catastrophic and did not cause damage to the aircraft, the odds of you being able to safely divert are quite high.

An even more rare event is a dual engine failure during flight, like what happened to US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009 after departing LaGuardia Airport (LGA). In what became known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was able to safely land his A320 on the Hudson River after experiencing a dual-engine failure from striking a flock of birds shortly after departure.

Related: Passenger From ‘Miracle On Hudson’ Flight Sees Capt. Sully 10 Years Later

Another well-known flight that experienced a dual engine failure was Air Canada Flight 143. The Boeing 767 was flying from Montreal to Edmonton when it experienced a dual-engine flame out in flight. The plane would come to be known as the Gimli Glider, because the pilot was able to fly the plane as a glider and get it safely back on the ground, even without engines in operation.

Bottom Line

If you’re on an aircraft that experiences an engine failure, stay calm. Modern aircraft are designed to be able to safely operate for extended periods of time with an engine out. While it might be a bit nerve-wracking to think about, the odds of you getting safely back on the ground are extremely high. Just be sure to listen to the flight crew’s instructions to ensure that you and those around you remain safe during an emergency situation.

For the latest travel news, deals, and points and miles tips please subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/TPG

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.