What is RVSM
Reduced vertical separation minima or minimum (RVSM) is the reduction of the standard vertical separation required between aircraft flying between FL290 (29,000 ft) and FL410 (41,000 ft) inclusive, from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet (or between 8,850 and 12,500 m from 600 m to 300 m). This therefore increases the number of aircraft that can safely fly in a particular volume of airspace.
Historically, standard vertical separation was 1,000 feet from the surface to FL290, and 2,000 feet above FL290. This was because the accuracy of the pressure altimeter (used to determine altitude) decreases with height. Over time, air data computers (ADCs) combined with altimeters have become more accurate and autopilots more adept at maintaining a set level. Therefore it became apparent that for many modern aircraft, the 2,000 feet separation was too cautious. It was therefore proposed by ICAO that this be reduced to 1,000 feet.
In the US this program was known as the Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (DRVSM). On August 19, 2016, RVSM authorization was revised for Operators. The FAA removed a lot of the RVSM Maintenance Program requirements. On January 22, 2019, RVSM authorization was revised again for all Operators that have aircraft which are ADS-B out equipped. If you are only operating within domestic airspace and not overflying other countries and / or no further than 12nm from the shoreline, you will not need a RVSM LOA or OpSpec or MSpec if the aircraft is ADS-B out equipped. All of the other RVSM requirements remain in effect (i.e. pilot training, height monitoring, maintenance etc.) If you are operating outside of US domestic airspace, you will probably need a RVSM Letter of Authorization or Operation Specifications for RVSM airspace. Please review our RVSM FAQ page for additional information.
Between 1997 and 2005 RVSM was implemented in all of Europe, North Africa, Southeast Asia, North America, and South America It has also been implemented over the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. The North Atlantic implemented initially in March 1997 at flight levels 330 through 370. The entire western hemisphere implemented RVSM FL290 & FL410 on January 20, 2005. Africa implemented it on September 25, 2008.
The Russian Federation implemented RVSM and flight levels in feet on November 17, 2011. Below transition level, meters are still in use however.
Only aircraft with specially certified altimeters and autopilots may fly in RVSM airspace. Otherwise the aircraft must fly lower or higher than the airspace, or seek special exemption from the requirements. Additionally, aircraft operators (air carriers or corporate operators) must receive specific approval from the aircraft’s state of registry in order to conduct operations in RVSM airspace. Non RVSM approved aircraft may transit through RVSM airspace provided they are given continuous climb throughout the designated airspace. 2,000 ft vertical separation is provided at all times between the non-RVSM flight and all others for the duration of the climb/descent.
“State aircraft”, which includes aircraft used in military, customs and police service, are exempted from the requirement to be RVSM approved. Participating states have been requested, however, to adapt their state aircraft for RVSM approval, to the extent possible, and especially those aircraft used for General Air Traffic (GAT).
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