Introduction to the National Airspace System (Part Two)

Restricted areas are charted with an “R” followed by a number (e.g., “R-5701”) and are depicted on the en route chart appropriate for use at the altitude or FL being flown.

Warning areas are similar in nature to restricted areas; however, the U.S. Government does not have sole jurisdiction over the airspace. A warning area is airspace of defined dimensions, extending from 12 NM outward from the coast of the United States, containing activity that may be hazardous to nonparticipating aircraft. The purpose of such areas is to warn nonparticipating pilots of the potential danger. A warning area may be located over domestic or international waters or both. The airspace is designated with a “W” followed by a number (e.g., “W-123”).


Military operations areas (MOAs) consist of airspace with defined vertical and lateral limits established for the purpose of separating certain military training activities from IFR traffic. Whenever an MOA is being used, nonparticipating IFR traffic may be cleared through an MOA if IFR separation can be provided by ATC. Otherwise, ATC will reroute or restrict nonparticipating IFR traffic. MOAs are depicted on sectional, VFR terminal area, and en route low altitude charts and are not numbered (e.g., “Boardman MOA”).

Alert areas are depicted on aeronautical charts with an “A” followed by a number (e.g., “A-123”) to inform nonparticipating pilots of areas that may contain a high volume of pilot training or an unusual type of aerial activity. Pilots should exercise caution in alert areas. All activity within an alert area shall be conducted in accordance with regulations, without waiver, and pilots of participating aircraft, as well as pilots transiting the area, shall be equally responsible for collision avoidance.

Military Training Routes (MTRs) are routes used by military aircraft to maintain proficiency in tactical flying. These routes are usually established below 10,000 feet MSL for operations at speeds in excess of 250 knots. Some route segments may be defined at higher altitudes for purposes of route continuity. Routes are identified as IFR (IR) and VFR (VR) followed by a number. MTRs with no segment above 1,500 feet AGL are identified by four number characters (e.g., IR1206, VR1207). MTRs that include one or more segments above 1,500 feet AGL are identified by three number characters (e.g., IR206, VR207). IFR low altitude en route charts depict all IR routes and all VR routes that accommodate operations above 1,500 feet AGL. IR routes are conducted in accordance with IFR regardless of weather conditions.

Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) are put into effect when traffic in the airspace would endanger or hamper air or ground activities in the designated area. For example, a forest fire, chemical accident, flood, or disaster-relief effort could warrant a TFR, which would be issued as a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM).

National Security Areas (NSAs) consist of airspace with defined vertical and lateral dimensions established at locations where there is a requirement for increased security and safety of ground facilities. Flight in NSAs may be temporarily prohibited by regulation under the provisions of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 99 and prohibitions will be disseminated via NOTAM.


Federal Airways

The primary means for routing aircraft operating under IFR is the Federal Airways System. Each Federal airway is based on a centerline that extends from one navigational aid (NAVAID)/waypoint/fix/intersection to another NAVAID/ waypoint/fix/intersection specified for that airway. A Federal airway includes the airspace within parallel boundary lines 4 NM to each side of the centerline. As in all instrument flight, courses are magnetic, and distances are in NM. The airspace of a Federal airway has a floor of 1,200 feet AGL, unless otherwise specified. A Federal airway does not include the airspace of a prohibited area.

Victor airways include the airspace extending from 1,200 feet AGL up to, but not including 18,000 feet MSL. The airways are designated on sectional and IFR low altitude en route charts with the letter “V” followed by a number (e.g., “V23”). Typically, Victor airways are given odd numbers when oriented north/south and even numbers when oriented east/west. If more than one airway coincides on a route segment, the numbers are listed serially (e.g., “V287-495- 500”). [Figure 1-2]

Figure 1-2. Victor airways and charted IFR altitudes.

Figure 1-2. Victor airways and charted IFR altitudes. [click image to enlarge]

Jet routes exist only in Class A airspace, from 18,000 feet MSL to FL 450, and are depicted on high-altitude en route charts. The letter “J” precedes a number to label the airway (e.g., J12).

Area navigation (RNAV) routes have been established in both the low-altitude and the high-altitude structures in recent years and are depicted on the en route low and high chart series. High altitude RNAV routes are identified with a “Q” prefix (except the Q-routes in the Gulf of Mexico) and low altitude RNAV routes are identified with a “T” prefix. RNAV routes and data are depicted in aeronautical blue.

In addition to the published routes, a random RNAV route may be flown under IFR if it is approved by ATC. Random RNAV routes are direct routes, based on RNAV capability, between waypoints defined in terms of latitude/longitude coordinates, degree-distance fixes, or offsets from established routes/airways at a specified distance and direction.

Radar monitoring by ATC is required on all random RNAV routes. These routes can only be approved in a radar environment. Factors that are considered by ATC in approving random RNAV routes include the capability to provide radar monitoring and compatibility with traffic volume and flow. ATC will radar monitor each flight; however, navigation on the random RNAV route is the responsibility of the pilot.


Other Routing

Preferred IFR routes have been established between major terminals to guide pilots in planning their routes of flight, minimizing route changes, and aiding in the orderly management of air traffic on Federal airways. Low and high altitude preferred routes are listed in the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD). To use a preferred route, reference the departure and arrival airports; if a routing exists for your flight, then airway instructions are listed.

Tower En Route Control (TEC) is an ATC program that uses overlapping approach control radar services to provide IFR clearances. By using TEC, a pilot is routed by airport control towers. Some advantages include abbreviated filing procedures and reduced traffic separation requirements. TEC is dependent upon the ATC’s workload, and the procedure varies among locales.

The latest version of Advisory Circular (AC) 90-91, North American Route Program (NRP), provides guidance to users of the NAS for participation in the NRP. All flights operating at or above FL 290 within the conterminous United States and Canada are eligible to participate in the NRP, the primary purpose of which is to allow operators to plan minimum time/ cost routes that may be off the prescribed route structure. NRP aircraft are not subject to route-limiting restrictions (e.g., published preferred IFR routes) beyond a 200 NM radius of their point of departure or destination.

Flight Literacy Recommends

William Kershner's Instrument Flight Manual - Everything you need to know to obtain an FAA instrument rating, or a great refresher for existing instrument pilots. Covered subjects include airplane performance and basic instrument flying, navigation and communications, clearances, planning IFR flight, and carrying out the instrument flight itself from preflight, takeoff and departure, en route, through to the approach and landing phases.