What makes a good IFR route?

As a hub manager, I see a lot of different ways our pilots file the roues they fly. One that I see often by new pilots is “GPS Direct.”

The question is: What really makes a good IFR route? With today’s advanced aircraft systems and avionics, a fairly inexperienced pilot can just plug in coordinates for the departure airport and destination airport and fly direct. Is this a good idea? With the exception of a few very rare cases, the answer is no. But why?

The number one reason is to know where you are and where you are going to be along a very specific route. Even though RADAR equipment is extremely reliable, there are times when outages may occur, then ATC reverts back to the old world way of non-RADAR procedures (requiring pilots to provide time estimates over certain reporting points.) Also to help plan daily traffic flow. In the real world, the FAA has, in concert with NOAA and the US DoD, developed a very sophisticated system of Navigational aids, VICTOR airways and JET ROUTES. Imagine them as “highways in the sky.” (See a cut from an Enroute Chart) at SkyVector.com

So, filing along airways and jet routes with specific navaids, intersections and reporting points is essential. Looks complicated, doesn’t it? You may ask: Where do I start? What “highway” do I use? Several factors need to be considered: Departure and arrival procedures for traffic flow, airspace boundaries, weather, obstacle/terrain clearance requirements and noise abatement are just a few things that may be considered.

How do you do this? In the virtual world there are several resources available that you can research or even download a ‘canned’ route between major airports. Some examples are: simroutes.com, vRoute.net (If you fly on VATSIM these two will give you the choices of preferred routes), flightaware.com will show you real world flightplans that are be currently used by the major carriers.

Important elements of a good flight plan are a SID(Standard Instrument Departure) a well planned route from the SID transition to the enroute phase, to the transition fix into a STAR(Standard Terminal Arrival Route).

Let’s take a look at a commonly used route between KONT and KLAS SIMROUTES Flightplan

It looks short and simple but there are several little twists in this little one hour flight by an A319.

The route reads:      KONT POM7 DAG CLARR2 KLAS

If you look at the Pomona7 Departure Daggett transition.(POM7.DAG) departure, you will notice that you travel about 25 miles in a northwesterly direction before proceeding northeast toward DAG and on to KLAS. There are two reasons for this. In this case, the first is for terrain. Just north of KONT there is a ridge of mountains that have to be cleared before turning eastbound. The second is a mutually agreed upon departure “gate” between SoCal Approach/Departure and LA Center. Transfer of control comes at a point along that departure route.

Daggett(DAG) is also the inbound transition point for the CLARR2 arrival. CLARR intersection has a crossing restriction

of 13,000 and 250kts. This is the mutually agreed upon transfer point from LA Center and KLAS Approach. You will notice the procedure turns northbound over SKEEBR intersection then eastbound over ISSAR waypoint. Again, two reasons, terrain clerarance and traffic flow. (other procedures into KLAS from different directions feed into the same general traffic pattern.) It works kind of like a funnel, getting traffic all going in the same direction and sequencing them to the same points with the necessary in-trail separation.

When a canned route is not available, you may have to plan your own. My persoanl method is to choose the appropriate departure procedure, then the arrival procedure, then I connect the two using the most direct set of Airways/Jet Routes.

Just remember, here at MetroAir, we are trying to emulate the real world operation of an airline. So, take the challenge. Try to find the correct route for your next trip!

Derrick Medlin

Derrick Medlin has been a pilot with MetroAir Virtual Airlines since March of 2008. He has served as Allegius Hub Manager and mainline Hub Manager in each of it's hub cities and is currently serving