Wake Turbulence Recategorization, or Wake RECAT, is the safe decrease in separation standards between certain aircraft.
Wake turbulence forms behind an aircraft as it passes through the air. The turbulence generated by the wake of an aircraft can be hazardous for aircraft passing through it.
Experts in wake turbulence, safety and risk analysis determined that the required separation between certain aircraft can be safely decreased. This determination followed a decade of extensive, collaborative research between the FAA, the DOT’s Volpe National Transportation System Center, EUROCONTROL and the aviation industry.
Wake RECAT is the latest example of how NextGen is transforming the air traffic control system. Safely reducing separation standards between aircraft increases capacity and efficiency, which in turn leads to fewer delays, saving time and fuel burn while reducing the size of aviation’s carbon footprint.
Prior to Wake RECAT, separation standards were set according to the weight of an aircraft. However, since the FAA first implemented weight-based categories, airline operations and the mix of aircraft types have changed dramatically, with the rise of regional jets at the light end and aircraft such as the Airbus A380 at the upper end.
Research showed that in addition to weight, other aircraft characteristics – such as speed and wingspan – also affect the strength of the wake and an aircraft’s reaction to the wake generated by aircraft in front of it.
The new standards are significantly improving the efficiency of operations at Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati and Atlanta. FedEx boosted capacity by 20 percent At Memphis after controllers started using Wake RECAT in November 2012. The airline burns 4.17 million gallons less fuel each year and emits 39,992 fewer metric tons of CO2. This is the equivalent of taking 8,421 cars off the road or the energy used by 3,650 homes per year. FedEx also saves 3.3 minutes per flight in taxi-out time and 2.6 minutes per flight – precious minutes that add up to significant time savings for the airline and the flying public when they are amplified by every flight flown over days, weeks and months.
The FAA will soon implement Wake RECAT at Charlotte-Douglas Airport, JFK, Newark Liberty, Chicago O’Hare, Midway, San Francisco, and George Bush Intercontinental and Hobby Airports in Houston.