The Ins and Outs of RVSM

Most readers should be well familiar with the rapidly approaching ADS-B Out compliance deadline on January 1, 2020.  This is an integral part of the FAA’s ongoing overhaul of our Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).  

Tad Wintermeyer is licensed to practice law in Tennessee and admitted to practice in Federal Court. Mr. Wintermeyer has extensive legal and professional experience in the field of Aviation, dealing with a broad spectrum of aviation issues including helping owners, pilots, mechanics and aviation professionals with FAA enforcement and compliance issues. Mr. Wintermeyer regularly negotiates and facilitates aircraft acquisitions and sales, representing both domestic and international clients. He is a licensed A&P mechanic and Airline Transport rated pilot.  He holds PIC type ratings in the Boeing 747, Hawker and Citation Jet series aircraft.

What you may not be familiar with is the recent change to Part 91 Appendix G.  You may be asking what does ADS-B Out have to do with RVSM airspace?  Well, if you own, operate or fly an aircraft in RVSM airspace (FL290-FL410), keep reading.  

As I write this, it is only fitting that I am lucky enough to be comfortably sailing along at FL380 on the upper deck of a Boeing cargo plane.  Since 2005, aircraft operators desiring to utilize domestic RVSM airspace had to comply with the requirements found in 14 CFR §§ 91.180 and 91.706, including Appendix G.  RVSM approval was a complex and often costly endeavor.  This required operators to make expensive equipment changes and make pricey route deviations to overfly designated height keeping elements for initial and recertification RVSM approvals.  Secondly, operators had to obtain a specific letter of authorization (LOA) for each aircraft operated in RVSM airspace.  Finally, operators had to ensure that their pilots were appropriately trained and that their maintenance personnel had a maintenance program in place to ensure ongoing performance-based compliance.

In 2016, after 11 years of accumulated data, the FAA dropped the RVSM-specific maintenance program requirements.  It was during this time that the FAA recognized that based on the widespread success in implementing domestic RVSM airspace, it was time to reevaluate the compliance requirements established in 2005 with the ongoing implementation of NextGen.  On December 21, 2018, the FAA published the final rule containing the revised Part 91 Appendix G that went into effect on January 22, 2019.

Operators and pilots seeking to operate in domestic RVSM airspace under the provisions of Part 91 Appendix G, Section 9, who are compliant with the ADS-B Out requirements contained in 14 CFR § 91.227, are no longer required to apply for authorizations (LOAs). However, each operator or pilot needs to ensure all applicable and remaining requirements in Part 91 Appendix G to operate in RVSM airspace are met. The operator or pilot should:

1. Determine the aircraft is RVSM-compliant;
2. Ensure pilots are knowledgeable; 
3. Ensure the aircraft meets RVSM performance and the aircraft has been height-monitored via ADS-B; and,
4. Properly file a flight plan and understand the policies and procedures for the RVSM airspace in which the aircraft will operate.

The FAA has published Advisory Circular AC91-85B, which goes into finer detail covering these four requirements.  Operators operating in domestic RVSM airspace are no longer required to obtain an LOA.  Gone is the requirement to overfly one of the seven height keeping elements spread across the country.  This includes the previous requirement to keep and maintain a current RVSM manual and named responsible party.

While this article covers the high points concerning the changes to Appendix G, you likely have additional questions concerning compliance such as, “What if I sell or acquire a new airplane? What if I fly internationally? Or, what is an RVSM compliant aircraft?”  AOPA is an excellent resource which can assist in answering your general questions and refer you to our panel attorneys who can address your specific RVSM compliance needs.

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