RVSM Goes Into Effect, Quietly

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You might not have noticed, especially if your flight operations don't take you that high, but last week the FAA quietly implemented its long-planned reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) in domestic U.S. airspace. By all accounts, neither operators nor the agency encountered major problems, in part because both sides have literally had years to prepare. That, and RVSM really is nothing all that new for anyone accustomed to international flight operations of any consequence. Still, implementing the 1000-foot vertical separation standard between Flight Levels 290 and 410, inclusive, within domestic airspace brought with it much hand-wringing among operators and other segments of the industry. Note, also, that in addition to U.S. airspace, RVSM was implemented on Jan. 20 in Canadian Southern Domestic airspace, Mexico, throughout the Caribbean and in South American regions. But, now that domestic RVSM has been implemented, some shouting may still erupt. For one, a new set of equipment suffixes has been added. The newly revised equipment suffix table changes the definition of "/Q" and eliminates the previous prohibition against filing "/Q" on an FAA flight plan. According to the FAA, the "/Q" suffix indicates that the aircraft has both RVSM and advanced RNAV capabilities (i.e., "/Q" = RVSM plus "/R" or "/E" or "/F" or "/G"). The "/W" suffix only indicates RVSM authorization. And two other hurdles remain: What operators of older, non-compliant aircraft will do and what, if any accommodations the FAA will make for flight-testing of aircraft which are, by definition, not RVSM-certified. In the former case, the costs to achieve RVSM certification may approach the airframe's value. Those operators may choose to forego the expense of RVSM and stay at lower altitudes, burning more fuel and dealing with more weather. And a solution is likely to be worked out among manufacturers and the FAA for test flights. The bottom line is that RVSM is in place and working, smoothly.