The FAA this week issued its final rule on implementing domestic reduce vertical separation minima (DRVSM), opting for a timeline that AOPA and others in the aviation industry consider unrealistic. Using extremely accurate altimeters and autopilots, DRVSM allows air traffic controllers to reduce the vertical separation between aircraft from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet at upper altitudes.
This week's final rule establishes full implementation, from FL290 to FL410, by January 20, 2005. AOPA believes that's unrealistically soon.
"The rule was issued without the support of key industry participants, including AOPA," said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Melissa Bailey. "In fact, in early 2001 the FAA had achieved industry-wide consensus for phased implementation. With publication of this final rule, FAA is officially reneging on that consensus plan, to the detriment of its customers."
"As it now stands, the FAA and aircraft owners have only 15 months for equipment installation and certification in over 15,000 aircraft," said Bailey. "At best, the FAA workforce can only process a maximum of 3,000 field approvals in a year. And even if the FAA conducted only DRVSM field approvals for the next year—which is impractical—it would still leave thousands of airframes noncompliant and locked-out of DRVSM flight levels."
AOPA had objected to full, immediate implementation down to FL290 because it harms operators of turbine general aviation aircraft. AOPA instead advocated for a phased implementation over a period of years. The current DRVSM rule compresses the implementation time frame and could ground or severely restrict the practical use of thousands of turboprop and jet GA aircraft. The phased implementation strategy (FL350-FL390 by December 2004 and full implementation no sooner than December 2006) favored by AOPA would have allowed the FAA and operators the time needed to comply with the requirements of RVSM airspace.
Operating in the DRVSM is very expensive. It requires aircraft to meet expensive altimeter and autopilot performance requirements. For GA, in many cases, the cost of equipage exceeds the value of the airframe.