Beyond the matter of confine–ment is that of performance. These airplanes are more capable than ever, but they're operated by crews whose basic design has remained unchanged for eons. Long periods of immobility can make humans cranky, and as always, extended hours aloft, doing little can make them weary.
As thus a wonderplane can arrive on the far side of the world in the hands of people who are agitated, dog tired, and whose circadian selves are arrhythmic. Now introduce bad weather with turbulence, a hold, heavily accented and formal English, unfamiliar waypoints and a non-precision approach never before flown. Oh, and do that all at night.
Might anything go wrong?
A senior international airline captain recently told me he much preferred regular trips between North and South America to transoceanic routes because he more or less stayed within the same time zone, which helped keep him in synch. Compare that to the Challenger 601 crew arriving at the Van Nuys FBO for a one-stop trip to the East Coast. At the time he reported for duty that morning, the charter captain had crossed and retraced a total of 34 time zones in the previous 10 days; the copilot, 15 in the previous three. They would cross just one more before crashing on departure from Montrose, Colo., killing the captain, flight attendant and one passenger. Could circadian churn have factored into their decision to forgo wing deicing?
A friend who frequently captains a long-range business jet on transoceanic missions believes that the ever-increasing range capability is setting the scene for trouble. He notes that business aviation pilots must devote preflight hours to studying weather, overseeing ground services and fueling, handling overflight permissions and myriad other details in preparing for super-long missions, making for a duty day that goes well beyond the 16-hr. max recommended by the NBAA Safety Committee.
He maintains that unless there's a full backup crew on board — and ideally, separate, lie-flat crew accommodations — the airplane's arrival could be compromised by front office fatigue. And if the principals in the cabin favor a get-the-business-and-get-gone kind of travel tempo, the crew could be back in the air with way less than the minimum 10 hr. of true rest recommended by the Safety Committee within every 24-hr. period.
Ultra-long-range aircraft exist to satisfy the increasingly global travel demands of the business community. They are extraordinary conveyances but ones whose capabilities need to be exploited prudently, lest they become vessels of crew confinement spiriting their occupants into trouble halfway round the world.