Blog The Difference Between Heavy and Large A..

The Difference Between Heavy and Large Aircraft

If you’re a frequent flier, then you’ve likely been on a variety of different aircraft, from small and cramped, to cramped and complex. Smaller aircraft are often less spacious with only two rows of seating, whereas larger aircraft typically have two or more rows of seating. However, the most significant difference between different aircraft is not the size of the aircraft, but the weight. The weight is especially crucial for pilots because they need certain ratings to be able to fly bigger aircraft. For both air traffic controllers and pilots, the categories are crucial in notifying pilots of dangerous conditions in the wake of heavy planes. For a more detailed description of the differences between large and heavy aircraft, read on below.

  • Maximum Takeoff Weight

A large aircraft is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration as one that has a maximum certificated takeoff weight (MTOW) that's more than 41,000 pounds and less than 300,000 pounds. This means that the aircraft is able to take off into flight at that weight range (41,000 lbs fewer would still be considered “large”). In regards to the MTOW of a heavy aircraft, the aircraft has to be 300,000 pounds or more. A medium aircraft has an MTOW that's 12,501 to 41,000 pounds. A small aircraft is one with an MTOW of 12,500 pounds or less.

  • Super Aircraft

The FAA recognizes two different types of very weighty aircraft and identifies them as being extra hazardous for another aircraft to fly behind. These types of aircraft, which are the Ukraine-built Antonov An-225 and the Airbus A380-800, are identified as super aircraft. The former has an MTOW of 1.41 million pounds and the latter has MTOW of 1.27 million pounds.

  • Pilot Certification

Pilots must have specific ratings in order to legally fly turbo powered or large aircraft. The rating can be obtained by passing a practical test called a checkride. On the checkride, the pilot must operate on a highly realistic simulator or an actual airplane, this test of which is preceded by months of training and instruction.


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