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In the United States, you'll often hear the word "heavy" after call signs used for wide-body planes over the radio during air traffic control (ATC) communications. However, in Europe, this practice isn't as common and you won't typically hear "heavy" being used by ATC. Why is that?

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    $\begingroup$ Europe complies with ICAO Doc 4444, §4.9.2: Heavy is used on initial contact. Doc 4444 is not mandatory (see this question). US difference from §4.9.2 is indicated in US AIP at section GEN 1.7: Heavy used in all contacts. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Feb 18 at 9:43

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According to the Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA), section 14 Voice Communication Procedures, SERA.14090 Special communication procedures, paragraph (c):

Indication of heavy wake turbulence category

  1. For aircraft in the heavy wake turbulence category, the word ‘Heavy’ shall be included immediately after the aircraft call sign in the initial radiotelephony contact between such aircraft and ATS units.
  2. For specific aircraft in the heavy wake turbulence category, as identified by the competent authority, the word ‘Super’ shall be included immediately after the aircraft call sign in the initial radiotelephony contact between such aircraft and ATS units.

So, an aircraft in the heavy or super wake turbulence category shall include the word Heavy or Super after the call sign in the initial contact with ATS.

If you don't hear this, then there are a couple of possibilities:

  • What you are hearing is not the initial contact.
  • What you are hearing is communication between the aircraft and something other than ATS.
  • The aircraft is not, in fact, in the heavy category. (Note that there is some slight difference in classification between, e.g., the FAA in the US, the CAA in the UK, the EASA in Europe, or the ICAO.)
  • The pilots made a mistake. They are human, after all.
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