Airways vs Waypoints

May 6, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

I’m wondering if other pilots are having any challenges with ATC still living in the VHF airways world when most of us have moved into GPS point-to-point Nav. I was IFR in a busy terminal area navigating to a flight plan waypoint when ATC requested an intercept to Victor XXX and to proceed on course.

The Garmin 480 is arguably one of the most capable and most complex units of the last generation FMSs and required several button pushes to get it thinking the same way the controller was. It also required me to open a neatly folded chart to get the bearing of the airway to effect said programming. While I was wallpapering the cockpit with chart, the controller very politely and efficiently suggested a heading of 030 to get on with it.

That got me to thinking about three ways to handle this:

1. Carry the charts, prefolded at the ready, as we used to do
2. Switch the MFD over to IFR map mode and intercept the appropriate airway, then go back and reconfigure the GPS.
3. Ask ATC to start using RNAV language for GPS equipped aircraft (which is most of us these days). We can navigate direct to any waypoint on the planet, so why not just send us to ZZZZZ? That will require some procedural changes but seems like it might be time to adapt to the not-so-new world.

The temporary fix is to ask for a vector while getting things sorted out and maybe that’s the best short term solution As the next generation of avionics starts to make things much easier much of this will become moot. Just wondered how the rest of you were fairing in this transition.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Mark McCormick

    The real question is: Does the Garmin 480 fully implement ARINC 424? I know
    that the 430 does not. Until you have the box that does everything that
    a Boeing does, then these problems will pop up. This is not a complaint;
    the Garmin GPS is amazing for it’s size.

  • Marty

    Experiencing this too. I always fly with the map open. I’m old fashioned I guess. Asking direct for a nearby intersection sometimes works for me.

  • Darin Dunham

    I have found that I still need to have the map out and folded to the relevant section. I always like to find the fix they direct me to before I plug it into the GPS. Also, they continue to tell us to fly to a fix and then via airway to another fix. I need the map to tell me if the airway has any bends in it.

  • Bruce Landsberg


    I’m not sure about the G480’s ARINC status but it has all the airways and pretty much does all that a Boeing will do. It is superior in that respect to the 430/530 inthat one doesn’t need to load every turn point along the way.

    The major drawback is no keyboard but the next gen of GPS is headed that way….

  • David Heileman

    This raises 2 or 3 points in my mind.

    GPS is wonderful technology, but I noticed that the guy flying from Maine to NC who caused Wash. DC to be evacuated a couple of weeks ago blamed his GPS. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t IFR, but still: a good pilot knows where they are at all times relative to surrounding NAVAIDs, airways, airports, and terrain (I’m sure the guys flying AA965 would agree, if they were still alive).

    It never hurts to ask for a vector. I do it a lot, because I fly /A.

    Which leads to my third point, really a question: Bruce Landsberg seems to think that the majority of IFR-certificated GA pilots fly regularly with IFR-certified GPS. Is that really true?

  • Jim Seaman

    Maybe I am in the minority, but I usually have the waypoints which define local airways for a given route in the 530 even if I am going direct. That way I can visually see what I need to do to intercept a given airway. In other words, I have put the airways in the box, usually from old stored flight plans, before I take off. I can easily pick a “direct to” point out of the route list, but the “white line” is still there, just in case.

  • Alan D. Resnicke

    GPS? What’s that? I still use paper charts (always current and open) and steam guages. Call me old-fashioned, but they work. I keep my head out of the cockpit instead of following a line on the screen, too.

    And why not ask for a vector from ATC? After all, if they change your enroute plan, why not let them do the work?

  • Jon Carlson

    “As the next generation of avionics starts to make things much easier much of this will become moot.”

    How will the next generation of avionics make this moot? The current generation (GPS navigators) were supposed to make things much easier. Garmin continues to say we don’t need airways in the 430/530 navigators because we should all just be going GPS direct. Well…. it’s not really a technology problem.

    I think technology is more or less there already, so it’s the next generation (!) of ATC procedures that will have to be developed to make these problems moot.

  • Rick Tavan

    I share your pique with ATC and I also carry open, folded charts when flying in unfamiliar territory or any time when flying IFR. But it does not seem too much to ask the GPS vendors to include and support airways, at least until ATC stops using them. My 530 does not.

  • bundies

    I’ve seen several good answers. This punch and go mentality will get you killed. I give you the 757 in Columbia that just assumed the closest letter r facility was the outer marker he needed to go to, and went directly into a mountain. ATC is not designed to operate on all direct routings at the lower altitudes. It would be akin to allowing any vehicle to use any part of the beltway during rush hour, just everybody get on the beltway any lane and go any direction you want. Secondly when you file a flight plan using co-ordinates only you have a clue where you want to go. So the controller winds up having to get out a chart and figure out where your going. If your the only airplane he’s talking to for the next hour thats ok but usually, there’s 4 or 5 other aircraft being told to stand by while you hog atc services. After figuring out where you are going, the controller will issue a route that complys with his letters of agreements with adjoining facilities. These agreements have been devised to maximize the amount of traffic the facilities can handle. If your filed route complys with the letter you get a cleared as filed. There is no requirement for extra co-ordination, which means more flow of traffic. Every body has been on the frequency when a controller has been talking like an auctioneer. If everything is flowing according to plan it works, now in the middle of that throw in extra landline calls to co-ordinate your flight somebody will have to be delayed. Technology could make this work, but until atc tech catches up with the technology in the average McDonalds it won’t. remember ATC is still a paper and pencil operation in the land of the computer….

  • crew767

    The difficulty in intercepting an airway with the current GPS units is they do not display airways. They were designed by engineers without the input of pilots that use the atc system. Flight plans in honeywell, smith and boeing units take airway inputs and easily display radials from a scratchpad. Garmins like my 430w are direct to only units with no airways, even the 696 that displays airways can’t load a flight plan with victor or jetroute airways. Till that changes its best to request vectors or a direct to fix/waypoint.

  • Steve Kahn

    Bruce, I face this dilemma quite a bit. While I always carry charts in my flight bag, my intention is to fly paperless. When given an intercept to an airway, I generally ask for a vector, and using my gnx200, pan around the screen looking for the airway and the associated vor. For the most part it works out pretty good, but when in doubt, I will still reach for the chart.
    On the subject of paperless, when I am given a specific departure proceedure and I’ve go to load it in my 430W, sometimes there are several and I am not sure which one to use unless I first load it and see if it’s the one I need. This is why I also print out my departure proceedures just to make sure I’m going in the right direction.

  • http://notknow Philip Karper

    last year coming out of love field Kdal on IFR flight (busy area) given the Hubbard 6 dep direct clare int then on course. Climbing out and as always new instruction then freq change, came next. Dfw dep say Intercept Maverick 094 radial them clare then direct and change to 126.94, climb and maintane 6000′. My answer was dooo what!

  • Bill Grant

    Garmin’s failure to include airways in the 430/530 is, I am afraid, a marketing decision designed to sell MX20/GNX200 moving maps. That and engineers who are not able/qualified to use the products they are designing in real life situations are, as previously noted, a real problem.

    The sad part is, the Northstar M3 Approach I just had to pull out and replace with a 400W not only had airways (V and J) it would also let you dial in an arbitrary bearing to or from any fix and intercept it. That made flying an NDB approach a dream. It also supported vectors to final on approaches and would automatically pick up on the appropriate approach segment. The only reason the Northstar is gone is because the limited size of the memory card prevented Jepps from providing database updates anymore.

    The guys in the avionics business who have really cracked the code on user friendly and intuitive are the folks at Aspen Avionics. They make great products at a great price point. When my mechanical HSI dies (they all do eventually) it will be a no brainer to yank it and put in an Aspen PFD. Maybe someday they will come out with a navigator…

  • Sydney King

    Due to stronger than anticipated headwinds I had to shorten the second leg homebound of a trip from South Texas to Northcentral Montana and back. I stopped for fuel at a small airport in south eastern Colorado. The area was IFR so when I cancelled my flight plan on the ground I went ahead and filed for the next leg. When I got to the cockpit I could not find the assigned Victor on my sectional. I was about to call back and go through whatever gyratations necessary to refile when I remembered that I had seen a low-level chart on the wall of the pilot lounge. With very little time left for my time off clearance I ran back into the FBO and checked the chart. Sure enough I found the Victor and noted that it was a bearing off a not to distant VOR. Its line went to the southwest and was only a few miles to the east of the airport. I made it into the air with about 2 minutes to spare

    You are right. With both a 430W in the panel and a GPSMap296 on the yoke it would have been so much easier to have flown to a waypoint and then a heading or a direct.

  • Ralph Galetti

    Do some of you pilots actually fly IFR without current enroute charts? I for one am afraid to do that, though it’s tempting, especially for a long trip when old charts might work.

  • John Dittmer

    Hi Bruce. Good chatting briefly with you at Sun ‘n Fun on Friday. Regarding the airway problem on the GNS 480, maybe you should have one of our Pilot-friendly manuals. That way you could look up the problem and have it solved quickly and with a minimum of consternation.

  • Carl Hopkins

    “GPS equipped aircraft (which is most of us these days)”. Maybe true for you and your friends, but there are still a lot, I suspect a majority, of us that do NOT have an IFR certified GPS on board!

  • Dave T.

    Oh my gosh, you’re kidding! Open up a chart? While flying IFR? OH THE HUMANITY!!!

  • herb ludgewait

    it’s ironic that you gee whiz gps types are feeling the same discomfort us old ifr pilots did learning the new stuff. v airways are still a neccisary part of the system. act like pilots and fly. stop letting hal do it. it will get you killed

  • Rob Lowe

    Here’s a question – why not set the GPS to VOR mode, intercept the radial (using a paper chart or the one on the MFD), and re-program the GPS once you’re flying on the radial? That way, you don’t lose your current leg when you change your flight plan around.

    From experience, I’ve gotta say it’s nice to fly IFR using a GPS. However, there are two very important points to remember when using a GPS as primary navigation on an IFR trip.

    First, as long as VORs and Victor airways are around, we need to remain proficient with them, no matter what equipment we fly. NDB questions on the instrument written test annoy me to no end, but VORs are in extensive use, so there’s no excuse for us not to be able to fly them when asked. Most controllers don’t have a problem giving a vector when requested in order to get our VOR armed or our GPS programmed.

    Second, flying without having a chart of your current area readily available (whether paper or electronic) is straight up reckless. Sorry to be blunt like that, but consider what you’d need to do if your GPS or PFD and MFD ever went down for whatever reason. You’d need a plan to get on track or on the ground as soon as possible. The first part of that plan would be to get your bearings immediately, so you ought to know where you are on your chart at any time.

  • Mike

    Bruce, had the same thing happen to me cominig out of PAO this summer. I had a clearance of SJC VINCO V107 on course. Upon departure I received fly 090 maintain 400. I was then given “intercept V107 as filed”

    After the request for “Vectors to the Victor” I ws able to scroll through the FtlPln on the 530 highlight VINCO then direct. Then hit the OBS and dialed in the 114 and the magenta line took me to VINCO.

    I was later told that is the procedure for departing PAO. I don’t know why they could not have given me a heads up when they gave me my clearence and it would have reduced the stress a great deal.

  • Bob H.

    A recent flight was indicative of the issue you describe – cleared via GVE GVE098 v16. The 098R takes one directly to TAPPA on v16. I just put that in the GPS and let it draw the line. The flight planning site I used tipped me off before engine start, so I knew to give that a look. Then about 30 miles from TAPPA ATC cleared direct COLIN to join. The NAV 1 radio was dialed in to provide the enroute crosscheck of our position, and I could fly that if the GPS died. Of course, once direct colin, the nav 1 radio was useless until we joined the airway.

    The real issue is that to fly any 50 mile segment in the mid-atlantic, it takes more than 1 chart open to the correct square. I think there is a safety issue or two in there.

    As for the VORs, always have the nav radios working on the solution. It’s sometimes easier to spin an OBS and turn then it is to work the buttons and knobs on the GPS.

    Anyway, airways are not going away; the name is changing to TANGO routes.

  • Michael Cheich

    The reverse is true for me. I fly without a certified GPS (like many military helicopter pilots), and ATC is always trying to give me clearances to way points that I can’t legally navigate to.

  • Jessi

    i have a Garmin navigator system. he find my route very good

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