As far as I'm aware, there are certain "motorways" or corridors which air traffic uses, rather than navigating more directly from origin to destination.
I remember listening to a documentary which mentioned that in the early days of the standardisation of flight, the navigation system was being decided. The Americans put forward the "motorways" system because they already used intermittent beacons to guide aeroplanes across the country, which naturally form a kind of road system analogue.
While the British (or Europeans) put forward a direct point-to-point system.

Anyway, the US won, and everything was hunky-dory until we get to today with our extremely crowded skies. So the documentary went on to say that investigations were underway into a new system in which each plane communicates with the planes around it continuously, forming and reforming impromptu mesh networks to avoid collisions. In this way, planes can fly more direct routes and potentially save time and fuel.

My question is whether or not this suggestion is feasible, is it being investigated, and is there a push to move towards it at a level which could affect the international air community?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Why do RNAV airways exist? $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 15:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @StephenSprunk Thanks for supplying a term I can use in subsequent searches, but I think my question is more along the lines of "Is modern technology making RNAV airways obsolete?" $\endgroup$
    – thosphor
    Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ Ironically, the U.S. nowadays is far closer to a mesh-network approach, with aircraft going pretty close to point-to-point, than Europe, where aircraft are compressed onto a relatively few, congested routes. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 3:58

2 Answers 2


Currently SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) works on implementing a similar system in the European Union.

As stated on the website :

SESAR’s vision builds on the notion of trajectory-based operations’ [...] meaning that aircraft can fly their preferred trajectories without being constrained by airspace configurations.

The aim is to improve capacity in the European sky and be more flexible among the actors too (like temporary closed airspace for military training, handle volcanic eruptions and disruptions of the airspace).

SESAR has different projects to address the needs of imporving Air Traffic Management in Europe that you can find on their website.


There are current concrete solutions from SESAR and EUROCONTROL (the European organisation for ATM in Europe) to make this happen at the moment in the European airspace, such as the Free Route Airspace with set target of implementation (that we could consider "serious effort") :

By the end of 2017, 51 ACCs have either fully or partially implemented Free Route Airspace operations [...] By the end of 2019, most European airspace is expected to have implemented FRA, with all airspace having this type of operations by 2021/2022.


In the US, there has been an ongoing effort to accomplish accommodating direct routes as much as possible since the Free Flight initiative in 2000, and the National Preferred Route plan, beginning in 2008.

There are inherent problems with any such plan. Here are the trickiest ones -

  • Major airports must have a usable plan for flowing traffic to and from the field. This means traffic must be "gated" on arrival and departure routes (trust me, I've worked flows that had both, due to weather, and you, the user, DO NOT want that :) )
  • Radar and communications constraints. This applies mostly to "low and slow" aircraft, but a GNSS/GPS direct route cannot have a segment longer than 500NM (at time of clearance) for non-radar constraints, and fixes on the route must be displayed on low/high IFR charts.

I'll address the first item. If your airline files KSFO..KJFK, they will NOT get that route. KSFO has departure procedures and standard instrument departures (SID) that ensure that your flight will not be climbing out in the opposite direction of arriving aircraft.Your aircraft will be given a SID to comply with traffic and airspace constraints.

Now, you're 150 miles east of KSFO, and an Oakland ARTCC controller gets an alert that your current route will take you through the Utah Training and Testing Rage (UTTR)", which is reserved military airspace owned by Salt Lake ARTCC. Well, that's not good, so you'll get a routing of "BVL..TCH..KJFK" to take you through the area safely. On through Salt Lake's airspace to Denver ARTCC, where, just east of the Rock Springs, Wyoming area, you'll get a flow control route (ZDV does lots of these) for the preferred routing into KJFK. This will include airways (those highways-in-the-sky) that meet restrictions for Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland ARTCCs, who all have their own traffic flow restraints.

Realistically, however, your airline will have access to this routing information before filing the clearance, and will file accordingly.

Departing a major airport and flying directly to another major airport over a long distance isn't realistic, unless it's a redeye flight, and you get lucky.

At least, not in the US.


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