When looking at different aircraft's specifications or in POHs/AFMs, there are several different weights of the aircraft mentioned (e.g. maximum take-off weight, maximum landing weight, operating empty weight).

What do they mean and how they are different?


5 Answers 5


The different terms represent different weights or masses1. For each flight, the weights are taken into account for several reasons.

A brief description about these is below:

Manufacturer's empty weight (MEW)
Also called Manufacturer's Weight Empty (MWE) or Licensed Empty Weight

It is the weight of the aircraft "as built" and includes the weight of the structure, power plant, furnishings, installations, systems and other equipment that are considered an integral part of an aircraft.

This excludes any baggage, passengers, or usable fuel2.

Zero-fuel weight (ZFW)

This is the total weight of the airplane and all its contents (including unusable fuel), but excluding the total weight of the usable fuel on board.

As a flight progresses and fuel is consumed, the total weight of the airplane reduces, but the ZFW remains constant.

Maximum zero fuel weight (MZFW) is the maximum weight allowed before usable fuel and other specified usable agents (engine injection fluid, and other consumable propulsion agents) are loaded.

Operating empty weight (OEW) (Roughly equivalent to basic empty weight on light aircraft)

It is the basic weight of an aircraft including the crew, all fluids necessary for operation such as engine oil, engine coolant, water, unusable fuel and all operator items and equipment required for flight but excluding usable fuel and the payload.


It is the carrying capacity of an aircraft. It includes cargo, people, extra fuel. In the case of a commercial airliner, it may refer only to revenue-generating cargo or paying passengers.

Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW)

This is the maximum weight at which the pilot of the aircraft is allowed to attempt to take off3.

Regulated takeoff weight (RTOW)

Depending on different factors (e.g. flap setting, altitude, air temperature, length of runway), RTOW or maximum permissible takeoff weight varies for each takeoff. It can never be higher than MTOW. More information is on this answer.

Maximum landing weight (MLW)

This maximum weight at which an aircraft is permitted to land3.

The following image depicts takeoff weight components.

Image Source

Maximum ramp weight (MRW)
also called maximum taxi weight (MTW)

It is the maximum weight authorized for maneuvering (taxiing or towing) an aircraft on the ground.

Aircraft gross weight

It is the total aircraft weight at any moment during the flight or ground operation. This decreases during flight due to fuel and oil consumption.

1: As mentioned (below in comments by SentryRaven), several recent references use the term mass instead of weight. Having a Physics background, I tend to agree and know the difference between weight and mass. I did not use mass as most of the references I included referred mass as weight. However, using correct terminology, all the weights mean mass. Thanks SentryRaven for pointing it out.

2: What is the different between usable fuel and unusable fuel?
Usable fuel is the fuel on board an aircraft that can actually be used by its engines. The small amount of fuel that cannot be drained from the tanks is the unusable fuel. For calculation of range, usable fuel is used. For weight and balance total fuel (usable + unusable) is used.

3: This restriction is due to structural, design or operational limitations.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ AFAIK, they are no longer called weights but masses. The PPL training and examination material no longer uses MTOW but only MTOM: maximum take-off mass. The skybrary also refers to MTOM. Maybe leave a little remark in your otherwise very nice answer? $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2015 at 17:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also: +1 for image attribution and going Q&A style. ;) $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2015 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Also related (and alluded to above) are the two most common "load" figures: Useful Load (the maximum gross takeoff or operating weight minus the operating empty weight), and Payload (what the aircraft can carry in cargo/passengers/personnel when loaded with the fuel required to make the planned trip). $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Feb 27, 2015 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @SentryRaven Since the U.S. is still (foolishly in my opinion) not using the metric system as our standard, I doubt that we will anytime soon use M instead of W since pounds are a unit of force, not mass. Also, I think the SKYbrary entry could be better written. As it is now, it would likely be interpreted as saying the aircraft's mass in pounds does not vary by altitude when, in fact, it does ever so slightly. The change, of course, is insignificant for aircraft weight purposes. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Feb 27, 2015 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ I believe MLW should refer to footnote #3, so I changed that. Please revert if I'm incorrect $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Sep 13, 2016 at 20:21

Read this from left to right, from detailed to generalized. Boxes on the right sum up the separate items which they run across.

diagram of mass definitions

The maximum landing weight is what the manufacturer has certified for landings. Generally, this is MTOW minus some fuel.

Note that every manufacturer has his own standard and might draw the lines between the different weight groups differently. Say, for one the engine quadrant is part of the propulsion system, whereas the other sees it as part of the control system.


Lets see if I can make it more simplified.

The aircraft has:

  • Basic Empty Weight (BEW) is the weight of the aircraft "as built" and includes the weight of the structure, power plant, furnishings, installations, systems and other equipment that are considered an integral part of an aircraft before additional operator items are added for operation.
  • Dry Operating Wieght (DOW) BEW + Weight of Crew (Pilot + Cabin including their bags) + Pantry
  • Operating Weight (OW) DOW + Takeoff fuel (i.e. Ramp Fuel - Taxi fuel)
  • Maximum Zero Fuel Weight (MZFW) DOW + Payload (anything put on the aircraft that generates revenue to the company, e.g. passenger, baggage, cargo, mail and fret)
  • Maximum Taxi Weight (MTW) MZFW + Ramp fuel
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) MZFW + Takeoff fuel, or MTW - Taxi fuel
  • Maximum Landing Weight (MLW) MTOW - Trip Fuel

Max landing weight is in reality mzfw plus some fuel in the wings which will not cause structural failure upon touchdown. For example an aircraft carrying max fuel for transatlantic flight must dump fuel when returning for landing due to an emergency,this procedure will ensure that the wings of that airplane won't break upon touchdown .

Otherwise good answers over all.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wrong. Your ZFW can be well below MZFW but you still have a Max Landing Weight to contend with — more fuel in the wings than being at MZFW in that case. The two limits are separate limits that have to be observed, and are only somewhat related. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jan 14, 2018 at 4:47

In military aviation both a Normal Take Off Weight and a Maximum Overload Take Off Weight are sometimes quoted, for the C130J these figures are 155,000 lb and 175,000 lb respectively.


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