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Instrument Tip: Taking the TEC route

Tower en route control

Consider it a hack. Free from the constraints of the en route air traffic system, tower en route control can save you time and effort planning your next cross-country.
Illustration by Leigh Caulfield

Tower en route control is an FAA program of predetermined routes that keep a flight solely within approach control airspace. Instead of working with air route traffic control centers and the coordination behind the scenes that comes with it, a TEC route enables a flight to move efficiently from one city to the next. This can reduce workload for the pilot and the control facility.

The process starts with the pilot. Go to the applicable chart supplement and search the table of contents for TEC, found generally at the back of the book. We’ll save you the time and tell you that TEC routes have only been designated for areas in the Northeast, Northern California, Southern California, and parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Of these, the routes in California best exemplify how a TEC can save everyone time and effort. Simply check your departure airport, find the destination on the list of possibilities, and the route is detailed. As a bonus, the routes are also named, which makes filing one quite easy. You simply file the name of the route in the flight plan, and put “TEC” in the remarks. Your clearance will be provided by the named route, much like a departure or arrival procedure. For example, flying the short 25 nautical miles from Long Beach to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, filing the CSTP1 route will take you SLI V23 POPPR SMO125R SMO SMO311R SILEX.

In contrast to all this efficiency, GPS navigators generally don’t store the routes by name. So be prepared to add the full list of waypoints. Sometimes that’s a simple direct-to between two airports, and sometimes it’s six different points in a short 50 miles. If you’re lucky enough to be able to beam your ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot data to your GPS, you’re in business because the routes are programmed in those apps.

The routes in the Northeast and Texas and Louisiana are structured more like traditional preferred routes in that you file the entire route in the flight plan and put “TEC” in the remarks section. Even here, there are benefits. For precise planners, knowing what to expect for your clearance, and in many cases, minimal reroutes is a winning strategy. The routes may not always be the most direct, but predictability can be beneficial in a busy environment. When you consider that, especially in the Northeast, TECs function much the way preferred routes do, filing one makes a lot of sense.

Altitude is also a consideration. The Texas routes specify they be flown at 5,000 feet or 7,000 feet, while the California and Northeast routes have altitude maximums that are dependent on the type of aircraft. In no case is it higher than 10,000 feet, and many max out around 8,000 feet. Some may also designate specific altitudes, and it’s easiest to file and expect those.

Especially in California, be ready for a workout. Many of the TECs specify legs and turns based on radials and distance, and not named intersections. It’s great practice for VOR users, and it requires some advanced knowledge when using GPS.

TECs often align with preferred routes, so you may end up receiving one whether or not you ask for it. It’s yet another reason to carry a chart supplement or know where to find the information on your iPad app.

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Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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