How do pilots know the way to their destination when there are no direction signs in the sky?

Your question of the month in November (2014)
Lucy, 4 years old

Unlike in normal road traffic, there are no traffic signs in the sky. Pilots therefore have to find the right route using other methods. There are two different methods they can use to find their way: visual flight or instrumental flight.

In the case of visual flight, pilots are guided by various reference points outside the plane to determine its position and also to find their way. For example mountains or of course the horizon, the visible “border line” between heaven and earth. Visual flight is used primarily for small planes. The biggest problem with navigation using visual flight methods are poor light and bad weather conditions that make it impossible for the pilot to find his orientation. This is why passenger flights are operated as instrument flights.

During instrument flight, the position and the route are determined and controlled using only the instruments on board and the support of air traffic controllers on the ground.
The so-called artificial horizon, one of the instruments in the cockpit, shows the pilot the plane's position in relation to the actual horizon.

So that they always know their exact position, pilots also use satellite navigation. You are probably familiar with this type of route and destination determination from the car of your parents or relatives, if they use a navigation system. With the help of several satellites in space, the position of the plane can be determined very accurately. The pilot then just has to follow the course displayed on a screen to reach the desired destination.

The air traffic controllers also check that all aircraft can take off and land safely and on time. They also maintain constant contact with the pilots and send them information, instructions and approvals directly on a screen in the cockpit.