A while back, I viewed a tweet about an Air Traffic Control (ATC) conversation in New York, where JFK ATC got a little bit confused about an aircraft type. Â American Airlines (AA) Flight 32 was incorrectly called a â€œheavyâ€ aircraft, likely because for so long that flight was operated by a Boeing 767-200. Â Ever since AA debuted their new Airbus A321 on the LAX-JFK route, this flight no longer needs to use the “heavy” designation, but that didn’t stop the ATC staff from using old habits. Â It made me question, at what point does an aircraft become â€œheavyâ€?
When aircraft are approaching or departing an airport, they must use special designations to help avoid the wake turbulence from other aircraft. Â Larger aircraft, like a 767 or an A340, need more space behind them to prevent the wake vortices generated by the larger wing span from impacting other aircraft. Â The bigger the aircraft, the longer the distance.
The dangers are real, as all over the world a number of incidents have occurred that can be attributed to a wake vortex. Â From the crash of an XB-70 in the 60’s to some involving more modern aircraft in the last 10 years (including an A380 in Sydney).