Ask a Pilot with Spencer: What Does “Heavy” Imply?

What does heavy mean?

In our Ask a Pilot collection, pilot Spencer Marker solutions one in all your aviation-related questions every week. See previous installments right here and submit your individual to

The query

Hey Spencer. I after I hearken to ATC on-line, I hear airplanes use the phrase “Heavy” on the finish of their name signal. What does that imply?


The reply

Hey Dean, thanks for writing in for this week’s Ask a Pilot. Radio communications are very important to navigating the air house within the US and I like that you simply hearken to how pilots and controllers speak to at least one one other. It’s fast-paced with a lingo that may typically solely be understood by these working within the trade. That being mentioned, the phrase “Heavy” with a name signal is used to let ATC know that your airplane is large and that they should give additional room to any flights following you to the runway.

ATC radio communications
Throughout a flight, the pilot of a business airliner will talk with air visitors management numerous occasions to vary altitudes, change headings or every other variety of issues. The controller, their radar display screen, will approve or deny any flight crew requests. Throughout regular ATC communications, each the controller and the pilot will check with their flight utilizing the airline’s “Name signal” (how totally different airline’s flights establish themselves) and their flight numbers. This quantity isn’t all the time the one printed in your ticket.

Typically an airline’s name signal is clear. Delta Air Strains makes use of “Delta” to establish itself, American Airways makes use of “American.” Different occasions, an airline will use one thing apart from its identify to establish itself on the radio. Virgin America, for instance, makes use of the decision signal “Redwood” and Eire’s Aer Lingus makes use of my favourite name signal: “Shamrock.”

Identifiers may additionally be included within the flight’s name signal to assist controllers extra simply establish particular points with particular flights. As an illustration, flights containing lifesaving medical supplies or donor organs to a recipient affected person add the phrase Medevac. A flight containing these supplies would possibly name themselves “American 123 Medevac.” This lets ATC know that the flight requires precedence dealing with to get to its vacation spot with minimal delay.

So when an airplane makes use of the time period “Heavy,” it’s merely offering ATC extra details about the character of its flight. On this case, and relatively unsurprisingly, it has to do with the load of the airplane.

What does “Heavy” actually imply?
The FAA requires any plane with a most takeoff weight in extra of 300,000lbs to make use of the time period “heavy.” This contains Boeing 747, 767, 777, and 787 plane. Airbus A300, A310, A330, A340, and A350 plane should additionally use this time period. When the big A380 was launched, the FAA created its personal class for the plane: “tremendous.”

So why add particular designations based mostly on weight? The explanation has to do with wake turbulence. I touched on the idea briefly in a earlier article. Wake turbulence is a vortex of wind (formed like a mini twister) that emanates from an aircrafts wingtip because it flies. This swirling column of wind is most prevalent on takeoff and touchdown and its impact is larger the extra an plane weighs.

The hazard of wake turbulence is that smaller plane can get caught within the vortex, inflicting a momentary lack of management. So the FAA instructs controllers to construct in distance between a big plane and the jet following it, permitting these vortices to dissipate. That is the place the “heavy” and “tremendous” name indicators come into play. When a pilot makes use of the phrase “heavy,” he’s reminding ATC that his plane is massive and requires extra separation between it and the plane following.

To sum up
Thanks for asking such a novel query, Dean. Pilot-to-controller communications are one thing that on a regular basis passengers hardly ever get the prospect to eavesdrop on, however completely ought to! Communications are concise, fast-paced and considerably onerous to decipher to the untrained ear. By utilizing the phrase “heavy,” pilots and controllers are each acknowledging the particular points that flying a big plane brings. And by permitting extra room between these large jets and smaller jets following, everybody within the sky enjoys a protected and cozy journey.

To eavesdrop on reside ATC communications at airports all throughout the nation, go to my mates at liveatc.web!

If anybody has a burning aviation query or one thing you prefer to cleared up, drop us a line at to get your query featured in an upcoming Ask a Pilot column.




Spencer Marker

The feedback on this web page usually are not supplied, reviewed, or in any other case permitted by the financial institution advertiser. It isn’t the financial institution advertiser’s duty to make sure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Editorial Notice: The editorial content material on this web page isn’t supplied by any financial institution, bank card issuer, airways or resort chain, and has not been reviewed, permitted or in any other case endorsed by any of those entities.