Reduced Vertical Separation Minima, RVSM, is an established airspace that allow aircraft to operate between FL290 and FL410 at 1000′ vertical separation. Aircraft flying above FL410 must maintain 2000′ separation and aircraft below FL290 can maintain 1000′ separation regardless of RVSM. RVSM airspace is not available everywhere.
Why do we need RVSM?
As aircraft began to fly higher it was discovered that aircraft altimeters become less reliable at higher altitudes. As a result, authorities imposed 2000′ separation for all aircraft above FL290. In the 1970’s the price of fuel began to rise and it became apparent that a better way to reduce separation and increase capacity was needed. The International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, set out to develop the requirements that would govern reduced separation above FL290. It was realized that modern aircraft has the ability to accurately maintain assigned altitudes and starting in 1997 RVSM began being deployed.
Who can fly in RVSM airspace?
Today, to operate in RVSM airspace aircraft must meet the RVSM certification, plus the operator must also be approved by Transport Canada (or other state authority). Basically, an aircraft must have two operational altitude measurement systems, one operational altitude control system, and one operational altitude alerting system. If any of the equipment required for RVSM is not operational the aircraft is no longer RVSM certified.
Are there exceptions to operate in RVSM airspace?
ATC has the discretion to allow aircraft to operate in or transition RVSM airspace, workload and traffic permitting. However, non-RVSM aircraft must maintain 2000′ separation from other aircraft, and flight level priority will be given to RVSM aircraft. If a non-RVSM aircraft is climbing through RVSM airspace to above FL410, they must do so at a normal rate of climb, with no operational level offs. Remember, whether you lose RVSM certification in flight or prior to departure because of equipment failure, you must advise ATC by radio or in your flight plan.
For more information on RVSM in Canada refer to the Aeronautical Information Manual RAC 12.17.