Flight Redemptions

What is CAT (I–IIIc) in Aviation? (Operational Performance Category)

Updated: February 20, 2024

Operational Performance Category (CAT)

Operational Performance Category (CAT) is a term used in aviation to classify the performance requirements for aircraft operations in certain weather conditions. It is divided into three categories: CAT I, CAT II, and CAT IIIc. These categories are defined based on the visibility and cloud ceiling requirements for aircraft to safely conduct takeoff, landing, and approach procedures.

CAT I

CAT I is the least restrictive category, with the highest visibility and cloud ceiling requirements. In CAT I conditions, the pilot must have a minimum visibility of 550 meters (1,800 feet) and a cloud ceiling of at least 60 meters (200 feet) above the runway. This category is suitable for most commercial aircraft and is the most common category used for regular operations.

While CAT I conditions provide a good level of safety for pilots and passengers, they still require the pilot to have visual reference to the runway environment during landing. This means that the pilot must be able to see the runway lights or markings in order to continue the approach and land safely. If the visibility or cloud ceiling drops below the CAT I requirements, the pilot must initiate a missed approach and try again later, or divert to an alternate airport with better weather conditions.

CAT II

CAT II is a more restrictive category, with lower visibility and cloud ceiling requirements compared to CAT I. In CAT II conditions, the pilot must have a minimum visibility of 350 meters (1,200 feet) and a cloud ceiling of at least 30 meters (100 feet) above the runway. This category is designed for aircraft equipped with advanced instrument landing systems (ILS) and autopilot capabilities.

Unlike CAT I, CAT II allows for a higher level of automation during the landing process. The pilot can rely on the ILS to guide the aircraft to the runway and can use the autopilot to control the descent and approach. However, the pilot still needs to have some visual reference to the runway environment in order to continue the landing. If the visibility or cloud ceiling drops below the CAT II requirements, the pilot must initiate a missed approach or divert to an alternate airport.

CAT II operations require additional training and certification for pilots and specialized equipment on the aircraft. The airport also needs to have specific infrastructure and procedures in place to support CAT II operations, such as enhanced runway lighting and monitoring systems. These requirements ensure that CAT II operations maintain a high level of safety despite the reduced visibility and cloud ceiling conditions.

CAT IIIc

CAT IIIc is the most restrictive and advanced category, allowing for landing and takeoff operations in extremely low visibility conditions. In CAT IIIc conditions, the pilot can perform automatic landings with no requirement for visual reference to the runway environment. The aircraft's autopilot and autoland systems take full control of the landing process.

To meet the requirements of CAT IIIc, the aircraft must have advanced systems such as a fail-passive autopilot, which can take over control if any system failures occur during the landing. The airport also needs to have specialized infrastructure, including advanced runway lighting and monitoring systems, to support CAT IIIc operations. These systems ensure that the aircraft can safely land and taxi even in near-zero visibility conditions.

CAT IIIc operations are relatively rare and are typically found at major international airports that experience frequent fog or low-visibility weather conditions. These operations require highly trained and certified pilots, as well as continuous monitoring and maintenance of the specialized equipment and infrastructure.

In conclusion, the Operational Performance Category (CAT) system provides a standardized classification for the performance requirements of aircraft operations in different weather conditions. CAT I, CAT II, and CAT IIIc categories define the visibility and cloud ceiling requirements for pilots to safely conduct takeoff, landing, and approach procedures. Each category has its own set of requirements and operational limitations, ensuring that aviation operations can be conducted safely even in challenging weather conditions.

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