Surinam Airways’ 777 ETOPS Problem

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Surinam Airways has a new (used) Boeing 777, except it can’t efficiently fly it on the one route its needed, even though it’s well within the range of the plane. This is an interesting avgeek story, so let’s dig a bit deeper.

Basics of Surinam Airways’ Boeing 777

I’ve written in the past about Surinam Airways, which is a small airline based in Paramaribo, Suriname. The airline has a fleet of just three aircraft, including two 737s and one 777.

Surinam Airways needs a long range aircraft in order to be able to operate its single long haul route, between Paramaribo and Amsterdam (which is a logical enough route, due to the Dutch connection).

Having a single long haul aircraft has posed some challenges for the airline over the years:

Surinam Airways took delivery of its 777-200 in the beginning of 2020, though up until now the plane hasn’t actually operated any scheduled commercial flights. Instead Surinam Airways has been using a wet leased Air Belgium A340-300 to operate this route.

Air Belgium has been operating Surinam Airways’ Amsterdam flight

Surinam Airways’ ETOPS problems

Surinam Airways’ 17-year-old 777 has the registration code PZ-TCU. Since the airline took delivery of the plane about eight months ago, it has operated:

  • Five short test flights taking off and landing in Paramaribo
  • On June 17 it flew to Frankfurt, and on July 23 it flew back to Paramaribo

As of now the schedule shows the plane operating the Paramaribo to Amsterdam flight as of Friday, August 28 (in just a couple of days):

There’s just one major issue, though, as reported by Luchtvaart Nieuws. Essentially due to lack of ETOPS (Extended Operations) certification, the plane can’t operate the route without making a massive detour.

A flight from Paramaribo to Amsterdam is about 4,700 miles, and goes straight over the middle of the Atlantic, so it’s quite far from diversion points.

Up until now the airline has used planes with four engines for the route, which don’t need ETOPS certification to operate routes like this.

Without ETOPS certification, Surinam Airways’ 777 would have to always be within 60 minutes of a diversion point, meaning the plane would have to hug the coast of the US, Greenland, etc., in order to get to Europe. This could potentially add up to three hours to the flight time. As a point of comparison, a four engine plane could fly up to 180 minutes from the nearest diversion point, so that was never an issue.

Why is Surinam Airways struggling with an ETOPS certification? It has nothing to do with the plane as such. Rather this certification allegedly requires the company’s pilots to do some flying in 777 simulators. The issue is that the airline doesn’t have a 777 simulator. The plan was to do get 777 simulator time in Miami, but travel between the two countries isn’t possible right now.

The airline is now looking for other ways for pilots to get the certification in simulators, which could involve having them do this in the Netherlands instead.

The clock is ticking, so we’ll have to see if the company keeps using Air Belgium on the route, if the company just chooses to fly the very long way, or if/when the company is able to get pilots into a simulator.

Admittedly I don’t fully know what’s going on in the background here, but the airline has had the plane for eight months, so it’s surprising to me that the company hasn’t figured out a solution for what should be a minor problem.

Bottom line

Surinam Airways plans to commence operations with its 777 shortly. However, the plane needs to stay within 60 minutes of the nearest diversion point due to a lack of ETOPS certification. This could add up to three hours to the flight time, given how “deep” into the ocean this route usually goes.

All of this comes down to Surinam Airways pilots not having had the simulator time needed to get this certification.

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation evolves…

  1. Seems like a weird choice if that is their only European route. Wouldn’t it make sense to fly to bigger markets in the UK or France or Germany? Or do they get a lot of connecting traffic from KLM?

  2. Christian, Amsterdam is the bigger market. Suriname was a Dutch colony. There are hundreds of thousands of people of Surinamese descent living in the Netherlands.

  3. @Christian – the official language of Suriname is Dutch. The “bigger market” is determined by the needs and historical links of the Surinamese market.

  4. That’s absurd, their pilots could easily enter The Netherlands to do training regardless of any Covid bans. Someone is not trying hard enough.

  5. They only have three planes? Last year I saw Suriname land an A340 at Schiphol. I guess they scrapped that one

  6. @Colin – I don’t think that is correct, the T in Etops stands for Twin. A 4-engine aircraft like the A340 can fly this route without any restrictions.

  7. > ETOPS applies to all aircraft these days (not just twin engine).

    ETOPS stands for extended TWIN operations.
    So they would be fine with anything more then 2. Maybe, rescue a KLM MD11 from the desert?

  8. ETOPS isn’t just for 2 engines anymore. The difference is that without the qualification for ETOPS, a twin engined plane is only allowed to fly within 60 minutes of a suitable airport, while 4 engined airplanes can fly up to 180 minutes from an airport.

    So, in the case of Surinam Airways, that’s a huge difference.

  9. I don’t think it’s strictly an immigration issue. There was an article some time ago about Korean Air having difficulty getting simulator time because simulators are really scarce right now. Without actual flying going on, all airlines are using their simulators full time to keep their pilots current on their rating. Which means airlines without their own simulators, who normally wouldn’t have a problem renting time, are getting bumped off.

    I suspect this is what’s going on more than immigration issues.

  10. EDTO is the updated term that relates to diversion times. ETOPS relates to twin engines, but I assume because it’s so well known “ETOPS” may still be “used instead of “EDTO” as long as the concepts are correctly embodied in the concerned regulation or documentation.”

  11. I don’t understand. Is the issue that they can’t get trained, or that they can’t fly to Europe and be ETOPS-compliant? How does flights from Sao Paolo and Colombia fly to Europe then on a similar plane? I know Air France used to fly an A330 to Sao Paolo following a similar flight path.

  12. What prevents them from hiring from the pool of thousands of furloughed or recently-retired pilots with ETOPS certification?

  13. This is all good information for me because years ago I was told that ETOPS means that Engines Turn or Plane Stalls, or maybe it was Engines Turn or Passengers S_ _t.

  14. What an absolute load of drivel, Ben! The Surinam Airways EDTO (yes, that’s the term being used for ETOPS these days) problem has absolutely nothing to do with simulator time/training/availability. It has everything to do with an incompetent and corrupt airline management structure as well as an obstructive, archaic, and outdated civil aviation authority (CASAS).

    Every single Surinam Airways B777 pilot (nine of them) has undergone US FAA training that included the relevant training for EDTO. The certification process for the 19-year-old B777-200ER in the country of Suriname has been slow since the two sides concerned, CASAS and SLM, carry so much historic baggage between themselves, that this aircraft will in all likelihood be returned to Boeing at the end of its lease without having ever been placed into revenue service.

    Go figure!

  15. ETOPS = Engines Turned Off, Pilots S**tscared.

    Seriously though, sneak a couple of ETOPS certifies drivers into the country. Shouldn’t be that hard.

    I will wait for my consulting fee for disoensing this advice.

  16. I thought the A340 and A330 share common ratings and their A340 pilots could have easily transferred time a newer A330-900 with much less sim training time. What is the point of acquiring a “new” 19 year-old aircraft? They should have gone with the A330-300 or -900 Neo because of the common rating with the A340 and the better efficiency compared to that 2 decade old 777.

  17. Living in Suriname it s shame to no to be able to see this birth fly.
    Suriname Airways has a realy good service and catering reputation at least to us. If it is just simulation training i dont think so i think there is more to this story then meets the eye.
    Goverment and Politics have been a thorn in the growth of this beautiful company with staff that that can rival any mayor international airline.
    Suriname airways has a good hospitality reputation and for me needs to become a private airlines. Also i think to grow it needs to team up with iether SKY TEAM< ONE WORLD OR STAR AILLIANCE to get its name recognized and grow……….

  18. Hi all,please note it’s not just the crew but the aircraft that has to be certified for EDTO.

    An aircraft may leave the factory EDTO certified, however that doesn’t mean it will retain that certification all if it’s service life.
    Maintaining an aircraft’s EDTO certification is an expensive business.

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