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Airspace Wormholes

Navigating complex airspace takes preparation and understanding of the system -- it also helps to have a pathway cleared for you ahead of time.

Navigating complex airspace takes preparation and understanding of the system -- it also helps to have a pathway cleared for you ahead of time.

When airspace planners designed the current airspace system, they didn't completely forget the needs of VFR pilots. They built in some pathways through the system that pilots can use to better blend into the flow of traffic. These VFR routes fall into three categories:

  1. VFR Flyways,
  2. VFR Corridors, and
  3. VFR Transition routes.

When planning a flight into congested and complicated airspace make sure to purchase the Terminal Area Chart (TAC) in addition to the Sectional Chart. This is good advice simply because the scale of the TAC is bigger and features are more easily seen, but there is another advantage many pilots don't know about...

Figure 1

On the back of the TAC is another chart that illustrates the VFR Flyways through the area. A VFR Flyway is a general path for VFR pilots that circumnavigates Class B airspace. They do not require a clearance to fly. Above, is the Orlando, Florida, Flyway Planning Chart. The VFR Flyways are indicated by the light blue lines with arrows on each end. These are not specific courses -- just general directions. One shown on this Orlando chart is from the north and proceeds southwest toward Lake Apopka and the Orlando County airport. This Flyway recommends that VFR pilots stay below 3,000 feet. Another Flyway crosses east / west between Sanford and Orlando Executive airport with a top altitude of 2,000 feet. If you look carefully, you'll see these Flyways always stay below the Class B airspace. Pilots using these Flyways would still need to use a Mode C Transponder, since the route is under Class B airspace -- but the Flyways never penetrate the Class B airspace (staying below it) so a clearance is not needed. The Flyway Planning Chart also depicts the likely locations of streams of incoming jets. The Flyways are designed to keep you out of these dense air traffic flows, while allowing convenient passage.

VFR Corridors were originally envisioned as tunnels through Class B airspace. Unfortunately, this one got away. In recent years, new Class B designs have not incorporated corridors. A Corridor is different from a Flyway because a Corridor would not necessarily extend all the way to the ground. It would have a minimum and maximum altitude together with boundaries both left and right. The corridor could even turn corners. The idea of a VFR Corridor still exists in the form of Special Flight Rules (SFR) airspace. The Los Angeles TAC has several of these. VFR pilots flying in the Los Angeles basin using the SFR must carry with them the Los Angeles TAC. Altitudes above 3,000 feet and below 5,000 feet MSL are reserved to accommodate SFR area operations near LAX.

In and around congested Class B airspace, certain preset routes have been established so that VFR pilots can get through or "transition" the area. Flyways and Transition Routes are similar in purpose, but different in use. Flyways do not require a clearance or communications with controllers. Aircraft on Transition Routes must communicate with an Air Traffic Controller and receive a clearance to fly the route. The Transition Route clearance will come with a specific course and altitude. These routes are also shown on the back of a Terminal Area Chart.

BOTTOM LINE: Don't be afraid to fly into and out of congested airspace, but realize that the slower speeds of our airplanes does not fit well in some environments. The published VFR routes have been designed to get you where you want to go without disrupting the flow of faster traffic. Use these routes, but remember that being on a route does not mean you are free of other traffic -- always practice good see-and-avoid techniques.

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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