En Route Operations (Part Six)

Changeover Points

When flying airways, pilots normally change frequencies midway between NAVAIDs, although there are times when this is not practical. If the navigation signals cannot be received from the second VOR at the midpoint of the route, a COP is depicted and shows the distance in NM to each NAVAID. [Figure 2-42] COPs indicate the point where a frequency change is necessary to receive course guidance from the facility ahead of the aircraft instead of the one behind. These COPs divide an airway or route segment and ensure continuous reception of navigation signals at the prescribed minimum en route IFR altitude. They also ensure that other aircraft operating within the same portion of an airway or route segment receive consistent azimuth signals from the same navigation facilities regardless of the direction of flight.

Figure 2-42. Changeover points.

Figure 2-42. Changeover points. [click image to enlarge]


Where signal coverage from two VORs overlaps at the MEA, the COP normally is designated at the midpoint. Where radio frequency interference or other navigation signal problems exist, the COP is placed at the optimum location, taking into consideration the signal strength, alignment error, or any other known condition that affects reception. The COP has an effect on the primary and secondary obstacle clearance areas. On long airway or route segments, if the distance between two facilities is over 102 NM and the COP is placed at the midpoint, the system accuracy lines extend beyond the minimum widths of 8 and 12 NM, and a flare or spreading outward results at the COP. [Figure 2-43] Offset COP and dogleg segments on airways or routes can also result in a flare at the COP.

Figure 2-43. Changeover point effect on long airway or route segment.

Figure 2-43. Changeover point effect on long airway or route segment. [click image to enlarge]

Direct Route Flights

Direct route flights are flights that are not flown on the radials or courses of established airways or routes. Direct route flights must be defined by indicating the radio fixes over which the flight passes. Fixes selected to define the route should be those over which the position of the aircraft can be accurately determined. Such fixes automatically become compulsory reporting points for the flight, unless advised otherwise by ATC. Only those NAVAIDs established for use in a particular structure (i.e., in the low or high structures) may be used to define the en route phase of a direct flight within that altitude structure.


Figure 2-44 shows a straight line on a magnetic course from SCRAN intersection of 270° direct to the Fort Smith Regional Airport in Arkansas that passes just north of restricted areas R-2401A and B and R-2402. Since the airport and the restricted areas are precisely plotted, there is an assurance that you will stay north of the restricted areas. From a practical standpoint, it might be better to fly direct to the Wizer NDB. This route goes even further north of the restricted areas and places you over the final approach fix to Runway 25 at Fort Smith.

Figure 2-44. Direct route navigation.

Figure 2-44. Direct route navigation. [click image to enlarge]

The azimuth feature of VOR aids and the azimuth and distance (DME) features of VORTAC and TACAN aids are assigned certain frequency protected areas of airspace that are intended for application to established airway and route use and to provide guidance for planning flights outside of established airways or routes. These areas of airspace are expressed in terms of cylindrical service volumes of specified dimensions called class limits or categories.

An operational service volume has been established for each class in which adequate signal coverage and frequency protection can be assured. To facilitate use of VOR, VORTAC, or TACAN aids, consistent with their operational service volume limits, pilot use of such aids for defining a direct route of flight in controlled airspace should not exceed the following:

  1. Operations above FL 450—use NAVAIDs not more than 200 NM apart. These aids are depicted on en route high altitude charts.
  2. Operation off established routes from 18,000 feet MSL to FL 450—use NAVAIDs not more than 260 NM apart. These aids are depicted on en route high altitude charts.
  3. Operation off established airways below 18,000 feet MSL—use NAVAIDs not more than 80 NM apart. These aids are depicted on en route low altitude charts.
  4. Operation off established airways between 14,500 feet MSL and 17,999 feet MSL in the conterminous United States—(H) facilities not more than 200 NM apart may be used.

Increasing use of self-contained airborne navigational systems that do not rely on the VOR/VORTAC/TACAN system has resulted in pilot requests for direct routes that exceed NAVAID service volume limits. These direct route requests are approved only in a radar environment with approval based on pilot responsibility for navigation on the authorized direct route. Radar flight following is provided by ATC for ATC purposes. At times, ATC initiates a direct route in a radar environment that exceeds NAVAID service volume limits. In such cases, ATC provides radar monitoring and navigational assistance as necessary.


When filing for a direct route flight, airway or jet route numbers, appropriate to the stratum in which operation is conducted, may also be included to describe portions of the route to be flown. The following is an example of how a direct route flight would be written.


Spelled out: from Chicago Midway Airport via Victor 262 to Bradford, Victor 10 to Burlington, Iowa, direct St. Joseph, Missouri, direct Salina, Kansas, direct Garden City, Kansas.

Note: When route of flight is described by radio fixes, the pilot is expected to fly a direct course between the points named.

Pilots should keep in mind that they are responsible for adhering to obstruction clearance requirements on those segments of direct routes that are outside of controlled airspace. The MEAs and other altitudes shown on low altitude IFR en route charts pertain to those route segments within controlled airspace, and those altitudes may not meet obstruction clearance criteria when operating off those routes.

Published RNAV Routes

Published RNAV routes are fixed, permanent routes that can be flight planned and flown by aircraft with RNAV capability. These are being expanded worldwide as new RNAV routes are developed, and existing charted, conventional routes are being designated for RNAV use. It is important to be alert to the rapidly changing application of RNAV techniques being applied to conventional en route airways. Published RNAV routes may potentially be found on any en route chart. The published RNAV route designation may be obvious, or, on the other hand, RNAV route designations may be less obvious, as in the case where a published route shares a common flight track with a conventional airway.

Note: The use of RNAV is dynamic and rapidly changing; therefore, en route charts are continuously being updated for information changes, and you may find some differences between charts.

Basic designators for air traffic service (ATS) routes and their use in voice communications have been established. One of the main purposes of a system of route designators is to allow both pilots and ATC to make unambiguous reference to RNAV airways and routes. Basic designators for ATS routes consist of a maximum of five, and in no case to exceed six, alpha/numeric characters in order to be usable by both ground and airborne automation systems. The designator indicates the type of the route, such as high/low altitude, specific airborne navigation equipment requirements, such as RNAV, and the aircraft type using the route primarily and exclusively. The basic route designator consists of one or two letter(s) followed by a number from 1 to 999.