Doubling the number of aircraft will affect us all
By Jim Sparks
Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums (RVSM) is getting significant attention these days.Until recent years Minimum Navigation Performance Specifications (MNPS) called for high altitude vertical separation between aircraft above FL 290 to be 2,000 feet. This had been very adequate, however recent studies suggest that the world's fleet of aircraft will double inside of this decade. This means squeezing twice as many aircraft in the existing airspace, requiring separation of aircraft by only 1,000 feet.
In a big city, when you try to accommodate a significant increase in the number of vehicles in the same space, saturation occurs which results in delays. The solution is to add highways or at least increase the number of lanes. When widening is not possible there is still an alternative. That is use the existing space and re-divide it incorporating the needed extra lanes. This situation will result in vehicles operating in a much closer proximity. Simply put, RVSM will take existing "highways" in the sky and redefine the lanes. In the not-so-distant future, twice the number of aircraft will occupy the same airspace as pre-RVSM.
Operating an RVSM qualified aircraft can have a major impact on even routine maintenance.
For those of us dealing with aircraft that routinely fly at or between FL 290 to FL 410, RVSM will eventually be required in all corners of the globe.
No one airworthiness agency can assume the credit or blame for RVSM. RVSM is a result of significant positive evidence being presented to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Initial discussions on this subject began in 1985 and at that time it was decided that the first highway to have its lanes subdivided was the one connecting the East Coast of North America with the West Coast of Europe. In other words, tracks across the North Atlantic Ocean. This controlled airspace extends as far south as 29 degrees North Latitude.
The main reason for RVSM is economics. The more aircraft that can utilize the most direct routes at the most fuel efficient altitudes translates into increased revenues for those participating in the commercial area as well as reduced costs all around. In fact a savings of $176 million is anticipated in the first 20 years.
What sounds like a good concept does have some drawbacks. Aircraft operating in RVSM conditions will have to be RVSM certified. These aircraft will have to demonstrate their ability to operate within a very precise altitude envelope and will have to incorporate specific minimum equipment.
Becoming RVSM compliant
Guidelines for completing the aircraft RVSM certification process are provided by the various Central Monitoring Agencies (CMA). In the United States, the CMA is the Federal Aviation Administration and contact for certification purposes is with a Central Monitoring Office (CMO) otherwise known as the local Flight Standards District Office.
Once the decision for RVSM operation is made, the aircraft manufacturer or design organization should be contacted to find out what sorts of qualifications are needed for the specific aircraft model to be considered eligible.
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