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I understand that VORs in the US and elsewhere are being removed from service gradually. The FAA plans to maintain a Minimum Operational Network, but still I imagine many VOR airways will also have to be removed when their respective VORs are shut down.

Is there any indication that the old VOR routes will be replaced by RNAV routes (Q and T routes)? Or will the VOR airways be removed without replacement, leaving pilots to file direct routes instead of using published routes?

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  • $\begingroup$ It's fascinating comparing charts on skyvector.com for Canada around Montreal (where there a lot of T routes) with the south shore of Lake Erie where there's a giant hole with no airways. It seems useful to have T routes where there'd be a lower MEA than the surrounding OROCA, but I suppose in many parts of the US the difference between the OROCA and MEA is negligible. $\endgroup$
    – Jeff B
    May 11 at 3:05
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Short answer: there seems to be no general plan to replace airways with Q and T routes. The FAA originally proposed replacing them, but the final rule doesn't include it.


You can review the source rulemaking documents in the Federal Register and it looks like the idea of replacing (or retaining) airways seems to have been discarded, possibly in response to comments.

The initial notice suggests that the idea was indeed to replace the airways:

Existing airways, routes, and procedures eventually would be replaced by RNAV Q (high) and T (low) Routes, and RNAV STARs and DPs.

The proposed rule got some negative feedback on the T and Q route idea from two major industry lobbies:

Comment #20: AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) both expressed support for direct routing and avoiding excessive implementation of additional T and Q routes.

FAA Response: In the NextGen environment, T and Q routes increase capacity and efficiency while maintaining safety by minimizing impact to air traffic control. T and Q routes allow controllers to safely manage air traffic during peak periods and to ensure predictable transitions between busy traffic areas. T and Q routes overlaid on existing airways defined by VORs could mitigate potential impacts to the discontinuance of VOR navigation services.

The final rule has only one mention of airways, and doesn't mention T and Q routes at all:

Retain most VORs in the Western U.S. Mountainous Area (WUSMA), specifically those anchoring Victor airways through high elevation terrain.

My reading of all that is that the FAA originally intended to move airways to Q and T routes, but dropped the idea after receiving feedback. Or perhaps they just floated the idea to see what the reaction would be.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the info! I wonder how controllers feel about removing routes and using more direct routing. Would widespread adoption of this plan increase their workload significantly? $\endgroup$
    – asb1230
    Jan 21 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ @asb1230 This question might have some more info about that, or you could ask it as a new question. "Direct" doesn't mean that every aircraft will literally fly directly from A to B, ATC will still assign routes between waypoints for safety and traffic management. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Jan 22 at 18:33
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A couple of years ago a black hole appeared over Austria (Vienna FIR—LOVV; except west Tirol which is very narrow and routes are still used in the neighbouring FIRs) where there are no routes any more and all routing is ad-hoc between fixes.

It has since grown to cover Slovakia (Bratislava FIR—LZBB), Hungaria (Budapest FIR—LHCC), Slovenia (Ljubljana FIR—LJLA), Croatia (Zagreb FIR—LDZO), Serbia + Montenegro (Belegrade FIR—LYBA), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo FIR—LQSB), Albania (Tirana FIR—LAAA), and North Macedonia (Skopje FIR—LWSS), though most of these have only removed high-altitude routes and still keep some low-altitude ones.

There is also a new one over Ireland (Shannon FIR/UIR—EISN), which also only keeps a few low-altitude routes.

I have no idea what the plan is in US, but it can be expected that more FIRs will join this movement to just use ad-hoc routing between fixes (provided they have the radar/ADS-B/ADS-C coverage it requires).

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