IFR Routes – What Are They & Where to Find Them

Oct 31, 2023

What Is an IFR Route?

Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) routes represent carefully planned aerial paths that are the linchpin of safe and regulated aviation operations. Operating under the vigilant gaze of instrument flight rules becomes imperative, particularly when inclement weather casts its ominous shadow or when there is limited visibility. Amid the intricate tapestry of these IFR routes, several cardinal components form guided aeronautical navigation. Foremost among them are Airways, the celestial corridors etched upon the heavens and designated by alphanumeric codes such as “K-567” or “J-234.” These routes, much similar to roadways in the sky, often trace their courses along VHF Omni-directional Range (VOR) or Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) waypoints, ensuring that aircraft traverse the aerial expanse with unwavering precision. Besides Airways, there are Waypoints. They are a collection of geographic coordinates or navigational fixes that constitute the beacon lights illuminating this celestial highway. They label the passage from origin to destination, thereby charting a course with recognizable landmarks, whether derived from radio navigation beacons or modern satellite-guided coordinates.

The departure and arrival procedures play a harmonious role within IFR routes. The Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) and Standard Terminal Arrivals (STARs) scripts depict the choreography of aircraft safely entering and exiting bustling terminal airspace areas, ensuring their harmonious integration into the intricate symphony of controlled aviation.

IFR routes also come with minimum altitudes for the preservation of safety and the avoidance of unforeseen obstacles. These critical thresholds, known as Minimum En Route Altitudes (MEAs) and Minimum Obstruction Clearance Altitudes (MOCAs), shield aircraft from unsuitable terrain and obstacles that may loom beneath.

The following is an example where the aircraft departs from Chicago O’Hare International Airport for Dallas Fort Worth. 

The aircraft will depart ORD Airport and follow Airways “G-789,” navigating via waypoints “DFW VOR,” “RST Intersection,” and “MNO NDB,” while adhering to SID “ORD1” for departure and STAR “DFW3” upon approaching DFW Airport.

Preferred IFR Routes

Preferred IFR routes, a subset of the broader IFR route category, are meticulously designed to enhance operational efficiency by providing standardized, direct, and fuel-efficient flight paths for commonly traveled city pairs and regions. They are published in official aviation resources, making them readily accessible to pilots and flight planners. In contrast, standard IFR routes encompass a wide range of flight options and lack similar optimization and predictability. While preferred routes are more likely to be granted by air traffic control, standard IFR routes can vary significantly and are subject to real-time factors, offering pilots a broader but less standardized array of routing choices.

Where Do I Find Preferred IFR Routes?

Access preferred routes through various sources:

  • FAA’s official website: The FAA updates a list of preferred routes for various city pairs.
  • Flight Planning Software: Use aviation software or websites like ForeFlight, SkyVector, or FlightAware to find preferred routes.
  • Flight Service Station (FSS): Contact your local FSS for route information and assistance.

How Do I Use Preferred IFR Routes?

Here’s a refined step-by-step guide to navigating these with ease and professionalism:

1. Flight Planning:

A. Route Investigation: Commence by scouting for a preferred IFR route tailored to your specific city pair. You’ll typically find these routes listed in official aviation resources like the FAA’s preferred routes system in the United States.

B. Access Preferred Route Data: Retrieve comprehensive data regarding the preferred route, encompassing key elements such as waypoints, airways, and prescribed altitudes.

C. Flight Plan Submission: Embed the identified preferred route into your flight plan when submitting it to your chosen flight service provider (e.g., FAA, Eurocontrol, or the pertinent aviation authority). Ensure that your route request harmonizes with the officially published preferred route.

D. Weather Intelligence: Before your flight, understand the prevailing weather conditions through a comprehensive weather briefing. Such knowledge is pivotal, as weather nuances may change your flight plan and route.

2. ATC Clearance:

A. Preferred Route Request: When contacting ATC to obtain your IFR clearance, explicitly express your intention to follow the preferred IFR route specific to your city pair. Be ready to provide the precise route identifier or details.

B. ATC Evaluation: ATC will diligently assess your request, considering factors like air traffic density and weather conditions. You will receive an IFR clearance incorporating the preferred route after approval. In cases where ATC cannot accommodate your request, they will supply an alternative route or modifications as deemed necessary.

3. Route Amendments:

A. Adherence to ATC Guidance: Throughout your flight, adhere closely to the directives dispensed by ATC, which may encompass deviations or amendments to your preferred route.

B. Amendment Requests: Petition ATC for an amendment if mid-flight circumstances necessitate a diversion from the preferred route (e.g., due to weather, traffic, or fuel considerations). Ensure you can provide a clear rationale for the request.

4. In-Flight Navigation:

A. Navigation Equipment Utilization: Harness the capabilities of your aircraft’s navigation equipment, including GPS, VOR, and waypoints, to chart your course along the preferred route.

B. Continuous Monitoring: Keep a vigilant eye on your aircraft’s progress along the route, cross-referencing your current position with the officially designated waypoints and airways.

5. ATC Connectivity: Maintain regular and effective communication with ATC, promptly relaying any substantial deviations or changes from your initially charted route.

6. Compliant Altitude Adherence: Ascend and descend by the altitudes stipulated in your IFR clearance and those enshrined in the preferred route documentation.

What is the Preferred IFR Routes Chart Supplement? 

The Chart Supplement is a pivotal resource in aviation, especially for the planning and execution of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flights. It is a comprehensive reference for pilots, flight planners, and aviation experts, furnishing in-depth details about favored IFR routes within a specific area, often customized for countries or regions. The primary objective of this supplement is to simplify the selection and utilization of IFR routes for flights between specific city pairs or areas.

Contained within this publication are extensive details concerning preferred IFR routes, encompassing route designations, waypoints, and airways, along with specific Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) and Standard Terminal Arrivals (STARs). Furthermore, it includes relevant altitude and speed constraints. This information significantly enhances flight planning efficiency by offering a consistent and efficient approach to selecting the most suitable IFR route for a given flight. The supplement typically focuses on distinct geographical zones, varying by region, like the continental United States. Various regions may maintain their versions, adapted to local preferences and traffic patterns. Given the dynamic nature of aviation, this resource undergoes regular updates and revisions, obliging pilots and aviation experts to consult the latest version to ensure route data accuracy. Accessible in both print and electronic formats, this publication aids pilots in selecting the ideal preferred IFR route, streamlining flight planning, contributing to air traffic management efficiency, enhancing routing procedures, and improving traffic flow.

What Are Preferred IFR Routes Beginning With a Fix?

Routes that commence with a fix, known as “fix-to-fix” routes, are predefined flight paths originating from a specific initial waypoint or navigation fix, often positioned near major airports or airspace boundaries. They offer efficient routing for IFR flights, reducing distance and fuel consumption while ensuring safe navigation. These routes detail the waypoints and airways to follow post-departure from the initial fix. They get published in official aviation resources, such as the Chart Supplement. Pilots and flight planners use these routes for flight planning and can request them when obtaining IFR clearances, aligning with published preferred routes. Based on real-time conditions and ATC guidance, route adjustment could become mandatory, making it a valuable asset for structured and predictable departures and controlled airspace navigation.

What is a User Preferred Route?

User Preferred IFR Routes (UPRs) are customized flight routes designed to align with the specific operational preferences of individual aircraft operators. These routes offer flexibility not found in standardized routes, allowing flight planning optimization based on fuel efficiency, aircraft performance, airspace restrictions, and operational convenience. UPRs are crafted to enhance flight efficiency by minimizing detours and avoiding congested or restricted airspace, leading to benefits like reduced flight times and cost savings. While customized, UPRs must still receive approval from air traffic control (ATC) to ensure compliance with safety and airspace management regulations, and the process often involves collaborative efforts between aircraft operators and ATC providers. The availability and utilization of UPRs may vary by region, contingent on coordination between aviation authorities and operators, emphasizing the significance of safe and efficient flight operations.

After all, as pilots often quip, it’s better to have an IFR route and not need it than to need one and not have it. If you don’t want to trouble yourself with these procedures, let Icarus Jet help your route with trip support! We provide global international aviation trip support assistance with agents on duty 24/7.

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