Why RVSM Training is so Important for Pilots

In this article we will explore:

  • The Fuel and Time Savings of RVSM
  • The Increased Airspace Capacity with RVSM
  • See and Avoid Even when IFR

A lot of pilots see RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum) training and get immediately annoyed. They see that on the training schedule and just think of having a video playing in the background as they do other things. 

Of course, as training continually emphasizes this sort of complacency is extremely dangerous. A lot of aviation accidents come from the invulnerability hazardous attitude. Many people will think, “Yeah, but that would never happen to me.” 

This makes people overly complacent. As you would expect, this is the most common attitude that is assumed and found on aircraft black boxes when there is some sort of aviation accident. 

It’s stated in pilot training from the beginning that the biggest antidote to this mindset is maintaining humility and knowing that something could go wrong at any time. It’s not expected that you go through life thinking about any and every thing that could potentially go wrong, but to remain aware of potential issues. 

You might end up having a more detrimental mindset if you always assume the worst. 

However, it’s always important to know what to do in an emergency. At the very least, think through potential emergencies at least a few times when you have downtime. 

And you don’t need the greatest top of the line simulator to do this either!

Most pilots have heard of chair flying. Likely, it was emphasized during their initial training for their private pilot license.

It’s time to bring it back and get in the mindset of preparing for things that could potentially go wrong and how to correct it with your RVSM training.

But there are a few reasons as to why RVSM is so important. RVSM was a huge move by the FAA because it allowed for more airplanes to be able to fly at altitudes optimal to save time and get the best fuel efficiency for their aircraft. It also essentially doubled the total amount of aircraft allowed in the airspace at one time. It also reminds pilots at the highest level that they aren’t immune to the see-and-avoid safety parameters.

Fuel and Time Savings

The design of airplanes is absolutely incredible. One of the first things pilots learn when planning out their first cross country flights to get their private pilot certificate is that airplanes are more fuel efficient at higher altitude and airplanes flying a specific direction should be at a set altitude to make sure airplanes don’t run into each other.

These concepts hold true throughout all of aviation. Jet aircraft are also more fuel efficient and can fly faster at higher altitudes. 

Without getting too deep into the science, it’s easily noted that flying at higher altitude leads to lower air density. This lower air density leads to less fuel being needed to get the same stoichiometric ratio that is required when on the ground. 

On top of that, the lower air density means there is less drag. If there is less drag, an airplane will naturally go faster. Which helps save on time to go a further distance. 

By practicing RVSM, more aircraft can be accounted for. That allows more airplanes to be more fuel efficient and time effective. Which means pilots must be even more aware and trained to operate in RVSM conditions.

Increased Airspace Capacity

The benefit of increased capacity of the airspace is an all around interesting thought experiment. 

If you think about the minimum spacing requirements for aircraft as outlined in 14 CFR 91.119 for pilots and the ATC requirements outlined in FAA Order JO 7110.65 then you can do the math and come to find an absolute maximum for the amount of aircraft that can be allowed in the air at a single point in time. 

The spacing formerly was at a 2000 foot standard spacing for flights above FL290 (29,000 ft), but that was cut down to 1000 foot spacing because of the advancement in technology to allow for safer flights. 

It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that by cutting the spacing in half, the amount of aircraft that can fit in this airspace is effectively doubled. 

Initially this led to having ATC operators to be busier by keeping track of double the airplanes, but it also increased the needed number of controllers. Which means more jobs, but this isn’t an article on economics.

It also meant that it led to busier airspace (of course). Which means the demand for air travel had to be growing for the need of RVSM lowering anyway. 

As can be seen by the massive increase in flights since Pandemic restrictions began lifting, the need for more flights is evident. 

If history repeats itself, then it can be assumed flights may get even further RVSM reduction with the increase in technology further. This means pilots will need to focus on RVSM training even further.

See-and-Avoid When IFR

It’s stated in the FAR’s that even though you may be flying an IFR approved route, it does not eliminate the responsibility of the pilot-in-command to see-and-avoid any and all hazards.

With RVSM coming into play, it was the FAA essentially saying, “We trust pilots with the ability to fly closer together because of their training in seeing and avoiding hazards. For that reason, we will allow airplanes to legally fly closer together. 

One of the biggest reasons RVSM training is so important is because pilots MUST be aware of potential issues and the proper protocols to be safe in the event of an issue. It would be terrible to attempt to avoid a collision only to fly into another collision by assuming you can climb when there is another aircraft already occupying that airspace.

RVSM training isn’t limited to just the FAA either. It has become an accepted number throughout the entire world. If you’re flying anywhere in the world the RVSM 1,000 foot separation is the accepted spacing. 

That means RVSM is even more important if you plan to fly internationally because you will want to make sure to be as fuel and time efficient as possible over such a far distance anyway.

To sum it all up, RVSM training is important for the sake of fuel and time efficiency for trips, the increased amount of traffic in airspace above FL290, and because of the PIC responsibility for maintaining the safety of a flight by using the see-and-avoid principle.

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