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U.S. high-altitude reduced vertical separation to take effectU.S. high-altitude reduced vertical separation to take effect

U.S. high-altitude reduced vertical separation to take effect
Turbine operators should use new equipment codes starting January 5

The FAA has issued a notam reminding pilots flying at and above Flight Level 290 that starting January 5, they should use new aircraft equipment suffixes (/Q or /W) in their flight plans to show that their aircraft have been certified for reduced vertical separation minima (RVSM) operations. And beginning January 20, when new high altitude aeronautical charts become effective, the amount of vertical separation between aircraft operating at high altitude will be reduced from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet. Aircraft and pilots operating between FL290 and FL410 must be RVSM-certified.

" AOPA argued for a phased implementation beginning at the higher altitudes, so our members who operate high-end aircraft would have additional time to make the necessary modifications," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "But the airlines had to retrofit their entire fleets and persuaded the FAA that they needed to see the cost benefits sooner rather than later."

With worsening air traffic congestion due to continued air travel growth and the fact that much of the world already has adopted RVSM, the FAA felt increasing pressure to find new ways to accommodate more aircraft at once.

AOPA was involved early in the process and argued - successfully at first - for a phased implementation of RVSM beginning first at FL350 then extending downward to FL290 at a later date. RVSM affects only a small number of general aviation aircraft, and most of those that are affected operate below FL350, so the phased implementation would have delayed the effective date for all but a relative handful of GA pilots.

The airlines, however, had to retrofit virtually all of their aircraft at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per aircraft. So they told the FAA that they needed to see the maximum cost benefit at the earliest possible date. The FAA concurred and issued the final rule with a single implementation stage.

"There are significant cost benefits to RVSM for that relatively small percentage of our members who operate at the flight levels," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "but also significant expenses. So we pressed for the phased implementation.

"But this was a case in which the potential economic impact to financially struggling airlines trumped what we thought was a common-sense approach that addressed everyone's needs."

December 30, 2004

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