Q: When I listen to ATC, I hear some pilots identify with their call sign and flight number followed by the word “heavy.” What does that mean?
A: The term “heavy” behind the aircraft flight number (for example, “United 17 Heavy”) identifies an aircraft that has a maximum weight capability of 255,000 pounds or more. Usually, widebody aircraft are considered “heavy.” Pilots and controllers are required to use the term “heavy” even if the aircraft operates that flight at a lesser weight. We identify these flights as “heavy” to alert aircraft following behind them that they need to increase their trailing distance to avoid the larger wake turbulence the heavy aircraft produce.
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