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History of RVSM

Rising traffic volume and fuel costs, which made flight at fuel-efficient altitudes a priority for operators, sparked an interest in the early 1970s in implementing RVSM above FL 290. In April 1973, the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) petitioned the FAA for a rule change to reduce the vertical separation minimum to 1,000 feet for aircraft operating above FL 290. The petition was denied in 1977 in part because (1) aircraft altimeters had not been improved sufficiently, (2) improved maintenance and operational standards had not been developed, and (3) altitude correction was not available in all aircraft. In addition, the cost of modifying nonconforming aircraft was prohibitive. The FAA concluded that granting the ATA petition at that time would have adversely affected safety. Nevertheless, the FAA recognized thepotential benefits of RVSM under certain circumstances and continued to review technological developments, committing extensive resources to studying aircraft altitude-keeping performance and necessary criteria for safely reducing vertical separation above FL 290. Data showing that RVSM implementation is technically and economically feasible has been published in studies conducted cooperatively in international forums, as well as separately by the FAA.

Because of the high standard of performance and equipment required for RVSM, the FAA advocated initial introduction of RVSM in oceanic airspace where special navigation performance standards were already required. Special navigation areas require high levels of long-range navigation precision due to the separation standard applied. RVSM implementation in such airspace requires an increased level of precision demanded of operators, aircraft, and vertical navigation systems.

On March 27, 1997, RVSM was implemented in one such special navigation area of operation established in the ICAO NAT Region, the NAT Minimum Navigation Performance Specification (MNPS) airspace. In designated NAT MNPS airspace, tracks are spaced 60 nautical miles (NM) apart. Between FLS 310 and 390 (inclusive), aircraft are separated vertically by 1000 feet. All aircraft operating in this airspace must be appropriately equipped and capable of meeting required lateral navigation performance standards of 14 CFR 91.705 and the vertical navigation performance standards of 91.706. Operators must follow procedures that ensure that the navigation standards are met. Flight crews must also be trained on RVSM policy and procedures. Each operator, aircraft, and navigation system combination must receive and maintain authorization to operate in the NAT MNPS. The North Atlantic Systems Planning Group (NATSPG) Central Monitoring Agency (CMA) monitors NAT aircraft fleet performance to ensure that a safe operating environment is maintained.

In addition, Pacific RVSM was implemented on February 24, 2000. The Asia/Pacific Approval Registry and Monitoring Agency performs the function of the CMA in the Pacific.