Airways are like highways for cars. An aircraft has to fly on these airways to fly from 1 place to another. There are different kinds of airways but I’ll explain the basis of how they work.

Let’s say you take your car and want to drive from Amsterdam to Paris. You take a highway to drive there its comfortable, you can drive faster and the signing is easy to follow instead of going all offroad and ride all over the place, it’s less comfortable and messy. With flying it works more or less the same. But in the air.

Airways are routings pre-defined, a flight plan is filed to follow the specific airways from point A to point B and so further. All these airways have different names with altitudes and are set between 2 hardpoints, these can be radio beacons like a VOR or NDB (Wikipedia will help you) or they can be defined by 2 GPS points or crossing radials from 2 radio beacons etc.

Airways are in controlled airspaces and start usually out of FL070 up. Airport departures usually send a departure aircraft on a Standard instrument departure towards one of the entry points of the airways where you fly in line at a specific altitude to the next point on that airway and from that point to the next airway that brings you to the next point etc etc. Every highway on the map has 1 letter and 1 to 3 numbers to divine the name of the airway. when you program your aircrafts computer you have to put in this code like “A216” same is with cars driving on highways. The A1 from Amsterdam to Paris.

The airways are divided into 2 sorts. The Low level (fl070 – fl195) and the High lever (195 – up) the upper-level airways have the “U” before the airways name. “UA216” for example. This is probably the same routing /track as the A216 we spoke about before but now on a higher level.

Airways are flown sometimes in one direction but can also be flown in two directions and are then divided by altitude. Let’s get a two-way airway as an example. I fly with my aircraft Eastbound than I get an odd level to fly on lets take FL270 (27000ft) but Bob is flying on the same airway but Westbound he gets an Even level so FL280 (28000ft) in this case we fly in opposite direction but on different altitudes with a separation of 1000 ft (300 meters). In so-called RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minima) airspace the separation is with 2000 ft (600meters) between 2 aircraft on the same highway RVSM starts from FL290 up to FL410. Because no to many aircraft are flying above FL410 yet the rules a bit easier still there but I think between now and a few years more planes will be able to fly there and is more economical so other rules will be applied on that part of the airspace soon.

Sometimes if it impossible a controller gives you a “Direct” from some point. This means you are able to fly directly from point A to point C without flying over point B to come there. These shortcuts can save time and fuel so money. Every minute that you are shorter in the air is better for the environment and saves a company money so more profit on a flight for example.

If you find this interesting and want to read a more detailed explanation from someone please follow the link here. If you have any questions regarding this blog please let me know in the comment section below.

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