FAA Issues RVSM Rule

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In late October, the FAA issued its long-anticipated Final Rule on Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums (DRVSM) decreeing that on Jan. 20, 2005, the required vertical separation between aircraft from 29,000 to 41,000 feet over the U.S. will be reduced from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet. That means more available routes, which the FAA says will actually result in greater separation between aircraft. It also means that aircraft that fly at those altitudes must have more accurate altimeters and enhanced autopilot systems, costly items that might cause some financial hardships. The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) was quick to announce it was "disappointed" in the rule. NATA complained in a news release that the FAA failed to take into account the impact on small charter operators who can't afford the required equipment. But the FAA said the upgrades will cost $800 million, while more efficient routing will save $5.3 billion in fuel costs by 2016. "Implementing RVSM is an important initiative within the FAA's strategic five-year Flight Plan to increase capacity," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in a news release. "RVSM aids the agency's goal to improve global aviation harmonization." NATA, however, finds that harmonization a bit jarring. "We remain concerned that the FAA has not yet met the spirit or letter of their obligations to the regulated parties, in particular small Part 135 on-demand certificate holders," NATA President James Coyne said. The wait until 2005 gives operators time to install the upgrades, the FAA said. About 3,900 aircraft, or 44 percent of those affected, have already been made compliant, leaving about 4,900 yet to be modified and tested, according to an FAA estimate. Canada, South America, and the Caribbean countries will implement similar rules at the same time as the U.S.