If you’re planning on flying anytime soon, there is arguably nothing more useful than finding out which preferred IFR route to take.
Thankfully, this is easy to do with a plethora of free and paid tools available, but there are a few things you should know first.
What Are Preferred IFR Routes and Why Use Them?
Preferred IFR routes are already established routes between your departure point and destination airport.
They are useful for planning the most efficient route of flight by minimizing route changes and helping manage air traffic.
Technically speaking, preferred IFR routes are those that are officially published by the FAA between major city pairs.
With the prevalence of user-generated, data-driven tools like Foreflight and FltPlan, though, preferred IFR routes are now viewed as those between any city pair.
Where Can I Find IFR Preferred Routes?
Several tools including Foreflight, Avare, FlyPlan, iFlightPlanner, and FlightAware, allow you to input your origin and destination, and then will calculate the route for you.
These tools each have their own IFR route analyzer, which is usually pretty intuitive to use and returns excellent data due to their popularity and the amount of data they have accumulated over time.
Often they can be set up with email alerts too, so when you are set to fly, you receive a message with the best, expected route at the time of flight.
With a preferred route and ADS-B receiver in your cockpit, your flight should be a smooth one with few unexpected occurrences.
How Can You Choose the Best Route?
The best way of categorizing and choosing preferred IFR routes is by aircraft type.
As it’s common to find different routes and altitudes for different aircraft, it’s always a good idea to pay very close attention to this information. You won’t have to find out the hard way that depending on the aircraft type and equipage, some terminal procedures will be limited by SID/STAR/routing.
Many of these tools offer customizable filters based on aircraft type and performance, as well as additional information like estimated en route time and fuel requirements, wind data, and NOTAMS.
What if There Are No IFR Preferred Routes Available?
Check nearby airports
It’s quite common for your origin or destination airport to not have a route listed. When this happens, it’s best to check for a nearby, larger airport that might.
The difference in routes between the two airports is unlikely to be too dissimilar. In any case, it is the direction and not an exact route that proves more useful.
If you can, it’s a good idea to tap into local knowledge as much as possible. Speak to a local pilot or flight school if you can. They will know more about all the local airports, limitations, and preferred routes than anyone else.
You also have the option of using the A/FD (Airport/Facility Directory), which is now referred to as the Chart Supplement. In all honesty, this should be a last resort, as it usually isn’t going to be of much help.
Speak to the Controller
Get in touch with the controller who will be issuing the clearance. Sure, it’s a bit more work than tapping in a few characters into an online tool, but they will know what route to fly.
You can find facility clearance delivery contact numbers listed in the Chart Supplement.
What Is the Difference Between a Preferred IFR Route and a Tec Route?
A preferred IFR route and TEC route (Tower En route Control) are largely the same in the sense that they are found in the A/FD, display routes between major city pairs, and designed to improve the system efficiency.
However, an IFR route usually involves a handoff to at least one center frequency and requires an IFR flight plan to be filed prior to contacting clearance delivery.
In a TEC route, you never ‘talk’ to the ARTCC, and a route is established only in areas with Radar coverage.