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New Wake Turbulence Spacing Procedures Will Increase Efficiency At Airports

Feb. 20, 2015

Pilots may not notice, but air traffic controllers (ATC) are planning to squeeze more aircraft into the same skies surrounding some of the nation's busiest airports. Reduced spacing saves fuel and time, and increases capacity, all while reducing aircraft emissions.

Known as “wake turbulence recategorization,” or “Wake RECAT,” the program enables controllers to space aircraft by type and performance, considering wingspan and approach speed, rather than just takeoff weight. By accounting for the different wake vortices generated by each aircraft, controllers can achieve greater flight efficiency while not compromising safety.

"More than likely, as a pilot you will never know this change in separation is being applied to your aircraft," said Bob Lamond, NBAA's director of air traffic services and infrastructure. "Further, no control instructions will be issued to pilots to use the new separation standards. RECAT is an internal procedure applied by the radar controller at the ATC facility. NBAA supports the RECAT effort and believes it will pay benefits to business aviation."

The new standards came about after a decade of collaborative research by turbulence, safety and risk experts from the FAA, Department of Transportation, European nations and the aviation industry.

At Memphis International Airport, the busiest cargo airport in North America, reduced spacing saved FedEx 4.18 million gallons of fuel and chopped the company's aircraft emissions by nearly 40 metric tons. That's like taking 8,421 cars off the road or saving the energy used by 3,650 homes per year, according to the FAA.

The FAA will soon add Wake RECAT procedures at several New York area airports, including : John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Teterboro Airport (TEB).

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD) and Midway International Airport (MDW), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and at both George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) in Houston are also slated to start using Wake RECAT procedures soon.