En Route Operations (Part Ten)


Waypoints are predetermined geographical locations that are defined in terms of latitude/longitude coordinates or fixes, used to define an RNAV route or the flight path of an aircraft employing RNAV. Waypoints may be a simple named point in space or may be associated with existing NAVAIDs, intersections, or fixes. A waypoint is most often used to indicate a change in direction, speed, or altitude along the desired path. Aviation RNAV procedures make use of both fly-over and fly-by waypoints. A fly-over waypoint is a waypoint that must be crossed vertically by an aircraft. A fly-by waypoint is a waypoint that marks the intersection of two straight paths, with the transition from one path to another being made by the aircraft using a precisely calculated turn that flies by but does not vertically cross the waypoint. [Figure 2-53]

Figure 2-53. Fly-by and fly-over waypoints.

Figure 2-53. Fly-by and fly-over waypoints.

User-Defined Waypoints

Pilots typically create user-defined waypoints for use in their own random RNAV direct navigation. They are newly established, unpublished airspace fixes that are designated geographic locations/positions that help provide positive course guidance for navigation and a means of checking progress on a flight. They may or may not be actually plotted by the pilot on en route charts, but would normally be communicated to ATC in terms of bearing and distance or latitude/longitude. An example of user-defined waypoints typically includes those generated by various means including keyboard input, and even electronic map mode functions used to establish waypoints with a cursor on the display.


Another example is an offset phantom waypoint, which is a point-in-space formed by a bearing and distance from NAVAIDs, such as VORTACs and tactical air navigation (TACAN) stations, using a variety of navigation systems. When specifying unpublished waypoints in a flight plan, they can be communicated using the frequency/bearing/ distance format or latitude and longitude, and they automatically become compulsory reporting points unless otherwise advised by ATC. All aircraft with latitude and longitude navigation systems flying above FL 390 must use latitude and longitude to define turning points.

Floating Waypoints

Floating waypoints, or reporting points, represent airspace fixes at a point in space not directly associated with a conventional airway. In many cases, they may be established for such purposes as ATC metering fixes, holding points, RNAV-direct routing, gateway waypoints, STAR origination points leaving the en route structure, and SID terminating points joining the en route structure. In the top example of Figure 2-54, a low altitude en route chart depicts three floating waypoints that have been highlighted: SCORR, FILUP, and CHOOT. Notice that waypoints are named with five-letter identifiers that are unique and pronounceable. Pilots must be careful of similar waypoint names. Notice on the high altitude en route chart excerpt in the bottom example, the similar sounding and spelled floating waypoint named SCOOR, rather than SCORR. This emphasizes the importance of correctly entering waypoints into database-driven navigation systems. One waypoint character incorrectly entered into your navigation system could adversely affect your flight. The SCOOR floating reporting point also is depicted on a Severe Weather Avoidance Plan (SWAP) en route chart. These waypoints and SWAP routes assist pilots and controllers when severe weather affects the East Coast.

Figure 2-54. Floating waypoints.

Figure 2-54. Floating waypoints. [click image to enlarge]

Computer Navigation Performance

An integral part of RNAV using en route charts typically involves the use of airborne navigation databases. Because GPS receivers are basically “to-to” navigators, they must always be navigating to a defined point. On overlay approaches, if no pronounceable five-character name is published for an approach waypoint or fix, it has been given a database identifier consisting of letters and numbers. These points appear in the list of waypoints in the approach procedure database, but may not appear on the approach chart. A point used for the purpose of defining the navigation track for an airborne computer system (i.e., GPS or FMS) is called a Computer Navigation Fix (CNF). CNFs include unnamed DME fixes, beginning and ending points of DME arcs, and sensor final approach fixes (FAFs) on some GPS overlay approaches.


To aid in the approach chart/database correlation process, the FAA has begun a program to assign five-letter names to CNFs and to chart CNFs on various National Oceanic Service aeronautical products. [Figure 2-55] These CNFs are not to be used for any ATC application, such as holding for which the fix has not already been assessed. CNFs are charted to distinguish them from conventional reporting points, fixes, intersections, and waypoints. A CNF name is enclosed in parenthesis, e.g., (MABEE) and is placed next to the CNF it defines. If the CNF is not at an existing point defined by means such as crossing radials or radial/DME, the point is indicated by an X. The CNF name is not used in filing a flight plan or in aircraft/ATC communications. Use current phraseology (e.g., facility name, radial, distance) to describe these fixes.

Figure 2-55. Computer navigation fix.

Figure 2-55. Computer navigation fix. [click image to enlarge]

Many of the RNAV systems available today make it all too easy to forget that en route charts are still required and necessary for flight. As important as databases are, they really are onboard the aircraft to provide navigation guidance and situational awareness (SA); they are not intended as a substitute for paper charts. When flying with GPS, FMS, or planning a flight with a computer, it is critical to understand the limitations of the system you are using, for example, incomplete information, unloadable procedures, complex procedures, and database storage limitations.

Required Navigation Performance

Required navigation performance (RNP) is RNAV with onboard navigation monitoring and alerting. RNP is also a statement of navigation performance necessary for operation within a defined airspace. A critical component of RNP is the ability of the aircraft navigation system to monitor its achieved navigation performance, and to identify for the pilot whether the operational requirement is, or is not being met during an operation. This onboard performance monitoring and alerting capability; therefore, allows a lessened reliance on ATC intervention (via radar monitoring, automatic dependent surveillancebroadcast (ADS-B), multilateration, communications), and/or route separation to achieve the overall safety of the operation. RNP capability of the aircraft is a major component in determining the separation criteria to ensure that the overall containment of the operation is met.

The RNP capability of an aircraft varies depending upon the aircraft equipment and the navigation infrastructure. For example, an aircraft may be equipped and certified for RNP 1.0, but may not be capable of RNP 1.0 operations due to limited NAVAID coverage.