Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM)

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Navigating the Streamlined RVSM Authorization Process: An Overview

Feb. 3, 2014

NBAA has prepared an overview of the changes and clarifications made in the Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM) authorization inspector guidance announced by the FAA in January 2014.

The new guidance clearly defines three RVSM authorization elements:

  • RVSM-Compliant Aircraft
  • RVSM-Approved Maintenance Program
  • RVSM-Knowledgeable Pilots

While the original authorization process addressed all three of these concepts in general terms, the new version of the guidance specifically identifies and defines them as separate and distinct required elements of an authorization in order to establish each element's portability from a previous FAA review.

For example, the new guidance has added language that indicates that once the FAA has reviewed a specific aircraft and determined that it is an "RVSM-Compliant Aircraft," any subsequent RVSM authorization update or application can be based on the previous review, even if it was for another operator, so long as no modifications have been made to that aircraft that would change its status as an RVSM-Compliant Aircraft and no other information is provided or comes to light that calls into question the status of the aircraft as an RVSM-Compliant Aircraft with respect to the new applicant.

Similarly, the previous requirement that an RVSM maintenance program must be operator-specific has been removed. This opens the door for multiple operators to follow the same approved program and no longer have to seek approval of their own unique programs at time of application. As well, once the FAA has determined that an operator's pilots are knowledgeable of RVSM operations and procedures for the types of operations that are being conducted, there is a portability of that knowledge to subsequent RVSM authorization changes for those same types of operations.

RVSM Decision Matrix

With these three defined and portable concepts in place, an RVSM decision matrix was then created and added to the guidance to define the various types of changes and authorization reviews required for RVSM. The RVSM Authorization Elements are key to navigating the streamlined process which is outlined in this matrix as it allows the FAA inspectors to more efficiently direct their attention to only those elements that actually require new or additional review.

The matrix creates three authorization groups, and then provides the following information for each:

  • examples of requested action/nature of changes applicable to that authorization group
  • applicable steps and information required from the applicant for the requested action/change
  • applicable procedures to be followed by the FAA office and inspectors

The three authorization groups are defined as follows:

  • Authorization Group 1 – RVSM Authorization Amendments
    Changes applicable to this group are considered to be administrative in nature only, such as a tail number change on a given aircraft, changes to a given operator's designated responsible person or RVSM point of contact, or changes to the primary business address of an operator. Assuming the applicant has provided the appropriate information, these types of changes should generally be made by the FAA very quickly as they do not require a re-review of the underlying authorization elements.
  • Authorization Group 2 – RVSM Authorization Based on One or More Existing Approved RVSM Authorization Elements
    Authorizations in this group are considered to be new authorizations and the applicant relies on one or more previously approved authorization elements (i.e., RVSM-Compliant Aircraft, RVSM-Approved Maintenance Program or RVSM-Knowledgeable Pilots). Once again, assuming the applicant has provided the appropriate information, these types of changes should require less processing time by the FAA as the FAA will be able to rely on the commonality of the different elements that have been previously reviewed and accepted by the same or other FSDO's.
  • Authorization Group 3 – RVSM Authorization Not Based on One or More Existing RVSM Authorization Elements
    Authorizations in this group will not rely on any previously approved RVSM authorization elements. Authorization changes or new authorizations not able to be categorized in Groups 1 or 2 will be considered Group 3, and all three elements – RVSM-Compliant Aircraft, RVSM-Approved Maintenance Program and RVSM-Knowledgeable Pilots – will be reviewed. This category will generally take the same amount of time for review as was previously required, although the hope is that by having the tools afforded in authorization Groups 1 and 2, the entire process will take less time, thus also speeding up the process time for Group 3 reviews as well.

In summary, by creating these groups, and specifying the applicable review required for each, a significant number of RVSM authorizations and updates, which previously required inspectors to review everything, can be categorized in a group that requires less review, and therefore requires less FAA time to process. The compound effect of this time reduction is also expected to reduce the overall timelines associated with RVSM authorizations.

As noted above, it is extremely important to stress that operators are still responsible to provide the required documentation to the FAA, appropriate to the authorization category in the decision matrix. Operators should also denote to the inspectors what RVSM authorization elements remain unchanged since the last review to take advantage of the streamlined process.

Recognition of Typical Multiple-Operator Scenarios in Business Aviation

The new guidance also highlights the fact that in business aviation, it is very common for there to be multiple legal operators of a single business aircraft. For example, an aircraft owner that operates the aircraft under Part 91 may also lease the aircraft to a Part 135 operator that conducts charter flights with the aircraft. Similarly, there can be multiple Part 91 operators of a given aircraft. In these multiple operator scenarios, the RVSM regulations require that each operator is appropriately authorized for RVSM by Letter of Authorization, Management Specification or Operations Specification as appropriate for each operator – which has typically not been the case in the past. However, by utilizing the tools created by the defined elements and the RVSM matrix, the time for the actual issuance of RVSM authorizations in these types of situations should be significantly shortened.

RVSM Height Monitoring

Aircraft flying in RVSM airspace are required to be height monitored every two years or 1,000 flight hours, whichever period is longer. There were questions as to whether the height monitoring had to be completed for each operator of the aircraft. The new guidance specifies that a single monitoring event can cover this requirement for multiple operators of an aircraft.

RVSM Responsible Person and RVSM Point of Contact

As was required before for Part 91 RVSM applicants, the application for RVSM authorization must include the designation of a "Responsible Person" who has the legal authority to sign the RVSM authorization on behalf of the operator. The Responsible Person can be the person who is the legal operator of the aircraft, an officer or employee of a legal entity that is the operator of the aircraft, or a separate person who the operator or entity has contracted with in order to act on behalf of the operator with respect to the RVSM authorization.

New in this version of the guidance is for an operator to also designate a contact person who has actual day-to-day knowledge of the RVSM-Compliant Aircraft operations and maintenance status that FAA may contact for that information as needed. This role is known as the RVSM Point of Contact. The RVSM Responsible Person may or may not be the same person as the RVSM Point of Contact.

It is also important to note that, in either event, the new guidance stresses that the Responsible Person and the Point of Contact should be persons who have actual knowledge of the day-to-day operations of the aircraft, not, for example, a third party that may have assisted in the preparation of documentation but then has no further on-going interface with the actual operations.

Acceptance of Previous FSDO Review

One of the essential keys to the new guidance is that it contains provisions whereby an inspector can and should accept or approve work previously reviewed and accepted or approved by an inspector in another FSDO, absent any information that raises questions or concerns with the on-going validity or applicability of those previously accepted RVSM Authorization Elements.

Note: The release of this guidance will not cause the reevaluation of any previously-issued RVSM authorization. However, as operators seek new or amended RVSM authorizations, the new guidance will be followed.

Acknowledgements

This article was prepared with the assistance of the RVSM LOA Process Enhancement Team of the Performance-Based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee. The team was co-chaired by Madison Walton (AFS-470) as the FAA co-chair and David T. Norton (Shackelford, Melton, McKinley & Norton, LLP) as the industry co-chair. NBAA thanks the entire RVSM LOA Process Enhancement Team for their efforts to streamline the RVSM authorization process.