Latin American RVSM Bottleneck?

 - January 30, 2008, 10:08 AM

Argentina and Colombia are lobbying to delay the planned January 2005 implementation of reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) airspace throughout Latin America. These countries are arguing that their operators–mainly the airlines–cannot afford to complete the necessary avionics upgrades in time and that therefore domestic flights by non-compliant aircraft should continue to be permitted above FL290.

Other countries, led by Brazil, are continuing to insist that RVSM should be implemented throughout the region to avoid safety concerns associated with having a “transition zone” between RVSM- and non-RVSM airspace. RVSM is also due to be implemented in the U.S. and southern Canada on Jan. 20, 2005.

According to Adalberto Febeliano, executive director of Brazilian business aviation association ABAG, the dispute over RVSM implementation broke out at a December 2002 meeting of ICAO’s planning and implementation regional group for the Caribbean and South America (GREPECAS in its Spanish acronym). The meeting was held at Manaus in northern Brazil.

Febeliano told AIN that it would not be too inconvenient for Argentina to defer RVSM implementation. “Their geographic position doesn’t preclude them from designing special airspace corridors for their needs,” he explained. “After all, only those flying from Europe to Chile will overfly Argentina.”

However, Colombia’s reluctance to meet the January 2005 deadline is a more serious concern because this would create a non-RVSM bottleneck at a key airspace junction between South and Central America. “Should they not convert their airspace to RVSM then almost all flights from South America to the U.S. would fly RVSM up to Colombia, transition to non-RVSM and back to RVSM in Central America,” said Febeliano.

Brazil–where the majority of airlines already fly compliant aircraft– is strongly in favor of region-wide RVSM implementation and ABAG is supporting this position. The main reason is that Brazilian controllers handle the vast majority of flights from South America to Europe, so the country already operates an RVSM corridor for this sector of traffic. The controllers’ job would be significantly easier if they did not have to manage the transition between RVSM and non-RVSM airspace.

Antonio Santos, manager of São Paulo, Brazil modification business Avionics Services, predicted that the January 2005 RVSM implementation deadline will not be met throughout Latin America. Quite apart from financial constraints on operators, he suggested that mod shops may not have sufficient capacity to convert the region’s many non-compliant aircraft in time, partly due to anticipated delays in taking delivery of the necessary systems and components.

Bureaucracy continues to create headaches for business aircraft operators throughout Latin America. Customs procedures are particularly problematic, with officials routinely holding up deliveries of both new and repaired aircraft parts. At the Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (LABACE) in March, Dassault announced that, partly to circumvent these difficulties, it is increasing the number of items on its Falcon jets that can be supported in an operator’s own country rather than having to be shipped back to the U.S. or Europe.

Historically, business aircraft operators in Latin America have enjoyed relatively free access to airspace and airports. However, in recent years, as congestion has mounted around busy areas such as São Paulo, they have increasingly found themselves squeezed out of popular and convenient airports such as Congonhas.

ABAG has been actively lobbying Brazil’s new government both for an easing in the bureaucratic burden and for guaranteed bizav access to key airports. For example, it would like business aircraft to be allowed 35 percent of the slots at Congonhas. During the LABACE show, São Paulo transportation secretary Dario Rais Lopes said that the state government now supports the case for the development of a dedicated business aviation airport for the sprawling metropolitan area and that fresh investment is being set aside to redevelop existing general aviation airfields.

However, in recent weeks the federal government has been increasingly preoccupied with the worsening crisis among Brazil’s airlines. On April 3 the administration indicated that it will be focusing on short-term initiatives, and ABAG fears that this will detract from the longer-term task of developing a new civil aviation policy encompassing business aviation.