IFR Flight

On an IFR flight, you usually don’t have the option to wander wherever you please, as you would under VFR. IFR flight means following the black line. By black line, I mean airways depicted on your enroute chart printed in black ink.

Of course, your best route may not necessarily be along an airway. Flying direct, from point to point may be the better way to go. In either case, you are still going to fly straight lines from place to place.

Is it Obvious?

This may seem like a case of stating the obvious, but think about how you fly when under V. F. and R. As long as you stay out of restricted airspace, under VFR, you can fly random patterns where, and when you choose. Under VFR, not only do you not have to fly in straight lines, you don’t even have to fly parallel to the ground! You can fly vertical patterns, as in aerobatics.

I’m not saying you would never fly from point to point while VFR. Most of the time, if you were traveling, you would use the same airways and point to point routes as IFR flight. The big difference is, under IFR you are obligated to stay on the straight and narrow path.

A Binding Contract

Not only do you have to fly a predictable path when IFR, you have to fly the path that air traffic control says you are cleared to fly. A route clearance is a contract between you and ATC.

The route clearance contract says you will fly the route you have been cleared to fly. As long as you stay on that route, the contract says, ATC will make sure that route is free of conflicting air traffic.

The contract is drafted as a flight plan. It is then agreed to, as written, or it is amended by air traffic control before you begin taxiing at your departure airport. You receive the final draft of the contract when you copy your pre-departure clearance. You put your signature on it when you read the clearance back to ATC.

With everybody signed on to the route clearance contract, you takeoff and hop on the black line.

For more about how to copy and read back the contract, check out Clearance Magic.