FAA Proposes New Rule to Add Capacity at High Altitudes

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of
Transportation’s Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) issued a proposed
rule today that would significantly
increase capacity and operating
efficiency at high altitudes.  The
proposal would reduce the minimum
vertical separation between aircraft
from the current 2,000 feet to 1,000
feet for all aircraft flying between
29,000 and 41,000 feet, thus allowing
more airplanes in the same volume of

Currently, aircraft at those altitudes
must be separated by 2,000 feet
vertically, meaning they can fly only
at 29,000, 31,000, 33,000 feet and so
forth.  As high-altitude air traffic
continues to increase, it would mean
fewer opportunities for airlines and
other aircraft operators to fly at the
altitudes they want.  Implementing
Reduced Vertical Separation Minima
(RVSM) will increase the routes and
altitudes available and lead to more
efficient routings that will save time
and fuel.

“By allowing aircraft greater
flexibility to fly at different
altitudes, airlines and general
aviation alike can save time and reduce
their costs while we improve the safety
and efficiency of the system,” said
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y.
Mineta.  “It’s a win-win situation for
all sectors of the aviation community.”

“Implementing RVSM is a major effort in
our overall plan to increase capacity
by 30 percent over the next decade,”
FAA Administrator Jane F. Garvey said. 
RVSM is already in place over the
Atlantic and Pacific oceans and in the
domestic airspace of several other
countries, she noted.

The FAA expects the following benefits
from implementing RVSM:


áGreater availability of the most time
and fuel-efficient altitudes and
routes.  Airlines often are not able to
actually fly the routes and altitudes
they want due to traffic congestion on
the most popular flight paths.

áIncreased flexibility for air traffic
controllers due to more altitudes being
available on each route.  This
flexibility is particularly useful when
controllers have to reroute flights
around bad weather.

áReduction in controller workload.  The
flexibility offered by RVSM reduces
controller workload and increases

áEnhanced flexibility for aircraft to
cross intersecting routes.  Having more
altitudes available means aircraft can
cross intersecting flight paths above
or below conflicting aircraft.

áEnhanced safety.  Studies of current
RVSM programs show a wider distribution
of aircraft among different routes and
altitudes, i. e., airplanes are farther
apart from each other.

The FAA proposes to implement RVSM in
December 2004.  By then, the agency
estimates, more than 90 percent of
flights between 29,000 and 41,000 feet
will be made by RVSM-compliant
aircraft.  The RVSM program costs for
U. S. airlines and other operators are
estimated at $634 million for the 2002 -
2016 period, primarily for aircraft
engineering to calibrate altimeters and
autopilots to RVSM standards.  The
estimated benefits, primarily in fuel
savings, would be $5.8 billion from
2004 through 2018. 

Today the FAA published a Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the
Federal Register on its RVSM proposal. 
The public has until August 8 to
comment on the NPRM.