ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial

Is Europe Ready for RVSM?

By Ian Parker | July 1, 2000

For some airlines, preparation for Europe’s new reduced vertical separation minima (RVSM) represents simply extending the use of equipment and procedures they now employ while flying over the North Atlantic. But for the many airlines that fly solely intra-Europe, the investment required to meet the January 2002 RVSM implementation date hangs over their heads like a heavy weight held by a frayed rope.

For a status report of RVSM in Europe, Avionics Magazine talks to Eurocontrol’s RVSM program manager, Joe Sultana, and Peter Malanik, general manager-technical and operations at the Association of European Airlines.

Avionics Magazine: How is the RVSM program going?

Sultana: We’re still aiming for implementation on Jan. 24, 2002. There’s nothing at the moment that indicates that we will not make that date. It’s a big program with lots of issues, but everything is generally on track.

Avionics Magazine: Are the airlines being cooperative?

Sultana: Yes, more than on previous programs. They can see the benefits of RVSM. [Many] have had the experience [of operating under RVSM] on the North Atlantic. It’s difficult for [the other airlines] to spend the money to do the modifications, and we still have stragglers. But I’m not discouraged at the moment by the equipage rate.

Avionics Magazine: What percentage of relevant aircraft is equipped for RVSM?

Sultana: We’re talking 50% now of airframes, but that’s not the same as operations. You might have an aircraft that is used once a month and another that is used twice a day.

Legally, the requirement is in place. The 50% takes in about 3,000 aircraft which are RVSM compliant from the North Atlantic. We’re talking about 900 European airframes [that are compliant]. For the airlines that do not have a North Atlantic operation, things are more difficult.

Avionics Magazine: The ones that just fly within Europe, are they being uncooperative in getting their aircraft fitted for RVSM?

Sultana: I wouldn’t say they were uncooperative. By the end of this year, they should have modified their aircraft, and by March next year they should have RVSM approvals. However, we are worried that there will be a late surge, as usual.

Malanik: It’s the single most important step to improve capacity in Europe. It’s extremely important that we implement this program as soon as possible.

We would not be happy with any further delays. We’ve already seen some deadlines slipping, and we’re very concerned about this.

We’re desperate for capacity in Europe, and RVSM could deliver a lot of it. Sometimes the airlines are blamed for not installing TCAS [traffic alert and collision avoidance system] software version 7 early enough, but there was a problem with availability and certification of the software. As soon as it is available we will be happy to install this software, to avoid false alarms [often produced by version 6].

Avionics Magazine: How much does it cost to equip an aircraft for RVSM?

Sultana: It’s very much dependent on the aircraft type and avionics. Some aircraft don’t require anything other than a check. Some need new air data computers. Some might even need some reskinning. It’s a very wide range of costs.

Avionics Magazine: One complaint about other programs is that the airlines invest in the equipment, but the authorities don’t get the ground equipment ready in time.

Malanik: We have seen that. It’s very annoying. The avionics manager in an airline has convinced the management that they need to spend maybe millions of dollars on new equipment, and then the benefits don’t come because there has not been the investment on the ground. The manager loses credibility.

There must be ways and means to get ATC [air traffic control] service providers to meet their obligations. There will be lots of benefits from RVSM.

When I think of 8.33KHz communications frequencies, we installed the radios quite a while ago, but it did not lead to much capacity improvement. We were told that we needed new frequencies so that ATC providers could open new sectors. They now tell us they don’t have the controllers to man those sectors. This is an investment that we’ve really had problems with.

Avionics Magazine: How much will RVSM increase capacity overall in Europe?

Sultana: We foresee a 20% increase within the first two years. It depends which area you are in. The transition states have to do additional work to transition aircraft between the RVSM and non-RVSM areas. They will get benefits, but they also will have additional work. Simulations have shown that we can get a 20% increase very quickly.

Avionics Magazine: Will you have enough aircraft doing the height monitoring trials to establish the safety case in time?

Sultana: We hope to convince the operators that unless they do their part, they won’t get RVSM. If they don’t equip, they cannot be monitored; we cannot have a safety case; we cannot introduce RVSM. Lack of aircraft modified in time is one of the risks.

Avionics Magazine: You can only ask the airlines to equip. You cannot force them.

Sultana: Yes, but the airlines that have equipped will pressure the others, so that we can get the safety case through. Fortunately there’s not too much debate on why we need RVSM.

Avionics Magazine: Peter, do you see RVSM as being on schedule?

Malanik: Yes, but [Eurocontrol] canceled the early implementation in parts of Europe, which would have brought some benefits early. This won’t delay the program as such. It’s just that a number of benefits that would have come from the early implementation are now not coming as early as they could have. We’re a little bit annoyed, but not overly concerned about that, so long as the implementation dates are kept.

Avionics Magazine: Because we have RVSM on the North Atlantic, it should smooth things through in Europe.

Malanik: One shouldn’t forget that the North Atlantic and the core area of Europe are entirely different. The difficult thing about RVSM is the border between it and normal separation–the transition zone. When we implement RVSM in Europe, the transition zone will be in Eastern Europe, where it might be a bit more difficult than over the Atlantic [because of traffic density and controller competence].

Ian Parker is European editor for Avionics Magazine. He can be contacted at (44) (0) 1189 787 711 or send e-mail to iparker@pbimedia.com

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