FAA Revises Wake Separation Standards at MEM

Based on a lengthy review and detailed safety analysis of which ALPA was an active participant, the FAA is implementing new standards for wake turbulence separation. The first implementation site begins at MEM at 6:00 a.m. CDT (1100Z), on November 1, 2012. Details are outlined in the FAA’s Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 12007, titled “Recategorization (RECAT) of FAA Wake Turbulence Categories at Memphis International Airport (MEM).”

The new separation criteria established through RECAT is the culmination of decades of wake turbulence research with the goal of enhancing air traffic capacity while maintaining current safety levels. MEM is the first site for permanent RECAT implementation. The FAA plans to expand RECAT to other airports in 2013-2014.

The traditional method of basing wake turbulence categorization solely on broad ranges of max certificated gross takeoff weight resulted in a wide variety of aircraft weights, speeds, and wake characteristics in actual operations. Under RECAT, aircraft by model are placed in one of six categories (labeled A-F) based on weight, approach speeds, wing characteristics, and lateral control characteristics. Pilots should be aware of how the new categories apply to their aircraft. For aircraft models that typically operate into MEM, most pairs will see approximately a 1-mile reduction in wake separation.

Beginning November 1, 2012, all flights into MEM will be under the new RECAT spacing criteria. Note that minimum radar separation standards in the terminal area have not changed and, as always, the PIC retains the final authority for the safe operation of the aircraft.

If you experience a wake encounter at MEM, as with any such encounter anywhere, use your company’s approved reporting program, ASAP, or NASA’s ASRS program. Be sure to include that the encounter happened at MEM and include as much detail about the encounter as possible. Timely reporting will help all involved parties evaluate the RECAT initiative.