Reduced vertical separation minima (RVSM) will debut in northern Canada April 18, 2002, at FL290 to FL410. Because of current navigation equipment limitations, aircraft at these altitudes currently must have 2,000 feet of vertical separation for safety. However, RVSM avionics mandates, for more precise navigation equipment in the cockpit, allow air traffic to reduce vertical separation to 1,000 feet, essentially doubling airspace capacity. While this is great for capacity, non-RVSM-compliant aircraft operating in Canada (north of the 57 degree parallel) at RVSM altitudes, including overflights bound for Alaska, will need to equip soon or face operating restrictions.
RVSM may not mean much to the average general aviation pilot, but the international aviation community considers it necessary for increasing capacity in high-altitude airspace. Despite reluctance of users in the United States to purchase and install the expensive avionics RVSM requires, it is nonetheless encroaching on U.S. airspace as evidenced by its northern Canada debut. In fact, RVSM has already been implemented in most of the free world, creating concern for AOPA—because this airspace is exclusionary, and non-equipped aircraft are forced to fly at lower altitudes. The cost for RVSM certification is hefty and upwards of $70,000.
RVSM's debut in Canada means that the United States is one of the last areas of the world without RVSM, and that is likely to change in the next few years. The FAA is currently considering a rule due out in April that could bring RVSM to the United States by 2005. "Although RVSM does not affect the majority of general aviation aircraft, AOPA has concerns about domestic RVSM implementation and is advocating for least costly general aviation alternatives, including a phased implementation plan that will allow time for impacted users to equip," explained Andy Cebula, AOPA's senior vice president for government and technical affairs. AOPA expects the FAA will publish a proposed domestic RVSM rule in April 2002. [See also AOPA's issue brief.]