Mr. Joshua Bolten
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street
Washington, DC 20503
RE: Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Final Rule
Dear Mr. Bolten:
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), representing the interests of over 400,000 aircraft owners and pilots nationwide, opposes the implementation strategy outlined in the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (DRVSM) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. As proposed, DRVSM would reduce the vertical separation minima applied to aircraft operating between Flight Level (FL) 290 and FL410 from 2,000 to 1,000 feet over the United States by December 2004. This means that even if the federal government takes quick action and publishes a final rule by September 2003, the industry and the FAA will have a mere 13 months to complete the equipment installation and certification of over 15,000 turbine-powered aircraft.
AOPA does not believe that the FAA can meet the certification demand that its proposed implementation schedule creates. Therefore, AOPA favors a phased implementation strategy (FL350-FL390 by December 2004) as agreed to by industry and the FAA in early 2001, and an extension of the full implementation date to at least December 2006. Doing so will allow the FAA and operators the time needed to comply with the requirements of RVSM airspace.
The aggressive implementation schedule outlined in this rulemaking action will likely result in economic and operational hardships for many within the aviation community. AOPA recognizes that the federal government and airlines will realize system-wide advantages through the utilization of DRVSM, in the form of fuel and time savings and increased system capacity. Unfortunately, the benefits to non-airline, turbine-powered aircraft are not nearly as significant and do not offset the cost of equipage. However, the penalty for not equipping is significant for these operators because RVSM is exclusionary airspace, meaning nonequipped aircraft would not be able to fly at those altitudes. It is important to note that in some instances, the cost to become RVSM compliant would exceed the market value of the airframe. The FAA neglected to conduct an adequate economic review and in the process failed to accurately account for the proposed regulation's substantial adverse economic impact on small businesses. Also, by the FAA's own admission, they may not have the ability to certify all of the aircraft that currently operate in the FL290 stratum and above within the 13-month timeframe.
AOPA also opposes the FAA's withdrawal of the allowance for use of a single RVSM-compliant altimeter for Part 91 turbopropeller aircraft as proposed in the Domestic RVSM Supplemental NPRM, FAA-2002-12261. Instead, the FAA will require these operators to install and certify two RVSM-compliant altimeters, citing a desire to align the rule with international civil aviation regulations as the rationale behind the change.
While the percentage of turboprop aircraft currently operating in the flight levels (FL) 290-410 is not statistically large, domestic RVSM requirements should not be dictated by Canadian, Mexican, or other international civil aviation authorities or standards. Most U.S.-based turboprops are used for domestic travel, not international, and it is AOPA's position that operators should retain the ability to decide how their aircraft will be equipped, not the federal government. Furthermore, Part 91 turboprop operators who desire to take advantage of the benefits of utilizing FL290-410 within the domestic United States should not be penalized by rulemaking that mandates equipage according to international standards.
Many of AOPA's concerns are centered on the time and cost needed to equip and certify existing airframes, as well as the FAA's ability to meet the proposed implementation schedule.
AOPA does not dispute the long-term capacity-enhancing potential of DRVSM. The addition of six flight levels offers increased flexibility to the National Airspace System (NAS). However, any advantages gained in the en route environment will not be fully realized until systemic "choke-point" issues in the terminal environment are resolved. The infrastructure necessary to do this is addressed in the FAA's Operational Evolutionary Plan (OEP), of which DRVSM is a component. Many of these OEP initiatives so critical to improving capacity in the NAS, such as expanding the number of runways throughout the country, are long-term solutions. As a result, the ability to leverage the full potential of DRVSM in the short term is questionable, thus AOPA questions the need for full implementation by the end of 2004.
In short, AOPA is mindful of the need to take full advantage of all available capacity-enhancing tools. However, the FAA must consider all airspace users when implementing new programs or strategies.
Because of DRVSM's importance to the user community, it is incumbent upon the FAA to do everything within its power to ensure its benefits are realized with a minimal impact. As a result, AOPA recommends that the FAA pursue a phased implementation strategy and extend the deadline for total compliance to at least December 2006.
August 22, 2003