Whether pilots notice any difference remains open to debate, but anyone cruising in the upper flight levels over North America should at least be aware that they are passing much closer to other airplanes now that the mandate for reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) is in force.
Why, when the safety record of professionally flown turbine twins is so impressive, did four business aircraft experience fatal accidents during a five-week period late last year? Three were fan-powered–a Learjet 35A, a Gulfstream III and a Challenger 601–and one was a King Air 200. There was a highly qualified two-person crew at the controls of each aircraft. Three of the four airplanes were operating in accordance with Part 91.
At precisely 0901 UTC on January 20, new operating rules for reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) are planned to take effect in the U.S., southern Canada, South America and Mexico. Depending on your particular situation, you may be anticipating or dreading the event.
The UK’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has introduced a permanent 250-knot speed restriction for standard instrument departures (SIDs) from London’s Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Northolt and London City airports. Aircraft are required to maintain and not exceed 250 knots below FL100.
While pilots agree that ADS-B is the next big thing for the National Airspace System, with FAA Administrator Marion Blakey describing it as the “FAA’s moon shot,” its implementation process has puzzled many. When Blakey last week launched the program with $80 million in FY 2007 funds, agency bureaucrats were still seeking go-ahead approval from the FAA’s top-level Joint Resources Council.
ADS-B-equipped aircraft will be back on ATC radar screens in Alaska after an absence of several weeks. On March 24, following “misapplication” of separation standards by the Anchorage ARTCC, FAA officials in Washington ordered ADS-B aircraft returns removed from ATC displays.
By 2009, Nav Canada plans to install ADS-B ground stations around Hudson Bay, which straddles high-latitude flight paths between Asia, North America and Europe but has no radar coverage. Currently, aircraft overflying the area must observe “procedural” separations that keep them approximately 80 miles apart, compared with five miles under radar monitoring.
Operators will see en route ATC charges for most of Europe reduced by an average of 7 percent starting this month. There will be some variance in unit charge rates for different operations–which are calculated based on distance flown and aircraft weight–but average charges are set to decrease in just about all of the 32 Eurocontrol member states.
Latin America adopted reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) on January 20, along with the rest of the Americas, and the transition to date in Brazil has been relatively smooth, according to national officials.
“There were no major problems on January 20,” said Saulo Jose da Silva of Brazil’s Department of Air Traffic Control.
More than eight months after the start of reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) in North America, about 70 percent of U.S.-registered business aircraft are approved for RVSM operations, and only four models have achieved 100-percent fleet compliance, according to data provided by technical consulting firm CSSI.