Flying from RIC to IAD, the most popular and "efficient" route is BENTLY -> CAVLR3:

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However, you could more simply depart north out of the RIC Class-D, intercept the BROOKE VOR on the edge of the DC SFRA, and then accept the inevitable vectors from Potomac Approach to IAD:

enter image description here

While the time en-route and distance are only trivially shorter, it still illustrates my point: choosing to fly a "non-standard" route is both quicker and potentially easier (without a GPS, hitting the intersections is a more complicated procedure than "direct to BROOKE VOR").

From my training I understand that these airways are primarily used to organize air traffic to reduce risk of collision in uncontrolled airspace as well as to improve flow and organization in controlled.

Which methods (routes/airways vs direct GPS/VOR/DME nav) are more commonly employed by IFR and (vs?) VFR pilots?

Thank you!

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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking about small VFR flights or small IFR flights? VFR don't use predefined routes; they use visual reference. Small aircraft flying IFR will mostly be subject to the same rules regarding flight planning as large commercial flights. $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Feb 2 '17 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard VFR pilots don't have to use visual references for navigation. In fact victor airways are available to both VFR and IFR pilots and VFR pilots can choose to follow airways along a VOR route, it is a common part of VFR navigation training. I often use GPS direct routes when I can, but I'm more than capable of VOR navigation when flying VFR, or even dead reckoning. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 2 '17 at 5:36
  • $\begingroup$ So it seems that for both IFR and VFR, it's down to the preference of the pilot. I guess then what I'm asking is, why would you choose to take a longer route w/ airways instead of a direct GPS method given the option, ATC's preference notwithstanding? EDIT: This resource seems to answer this question precisely: bruceair.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/… $\endgroup$ – Connor Spangler Feb 2 '17 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking about a specific country (the US?) or jurisdiction, or is it a general question? That could change the answer. And this question is very similar. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Feb 2 '17 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ In general. Also I did read that question but found the answer to be more geared towards how the airways work instead of which is used more preferentially. $\endgroup$ – Connor Spangler Feb 2 '17 at 15:09

By definition, there are no defined airways or routes in uncontrolled airspace, so the answer to that question is no.

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  • $\begingroup$ That is simply not true (at least in Europe). $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Feb 2 '17 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ I don't pretend to know a lot about the subject, but just from simply looking at CONUS sectionals, I can say your statement seems to be categorically false. $\endgroup$ – Connor Spangler Feb 2 '17 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Carlo Felicione is correct. However, most airpace in the U.S. is controlled airspace. (Class E) above 1200 FT AGL. Very few sections of the U.S. have uncontrolled airspace to 14,500 FT MSL. $\endgroup$ – wbeard52 Feb 2 '17 at 16:28

So the answer to my question seems to be that for both VFR and IFR, assuming you have the appropriate equipment (e.g. GPS), flying direct has the benefits of

  • Saving time and fuel by trimming miles from long flights
  • Simplifying the creation of flight plans (lists of waypoints) in GPS navigators, especially units that don’t support entry of airway designations
  • Simplifying navigation in flight by reducing the number of turn points
  • Avoiding avoid major changes from a filed IFR flight plan when they receive their actual clearance from ATC.

while flying using established airways has the benefits of

  • Making it easier to track your progress on charts
  • Helping you remain aware of alternatives should you need to stop for fuel, accommodate passengers, avoid weather, or deal with a malfunction
  • Avoiding terrain/restricted airspace/obstacles

At the end of the day it seems to ultimately come down to what ATC clears you for, which is mostly dependent upon the nature of the area you're flying in/through based on traffic density and terrain/airspace complications (your planned route out of SFO is much more likely to be at the whims of ATC, compared to departing Jackson Hole). Filing plans which utilize SIDs and STARs should therefore feasibly be less prone to modification (my assumption) when departing/arriving at an airport, leaving your choice of direct vs. airways during the cruise portion of the flight more dependent upon terrain and other factors.

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