Another VA

I’ve blogged about my experience with VA’s or Virtual Airlines.  When I setup my sim gear and eased back into the hobby I really had plans just to fly and not get involved with any VA.  Well, this lasted about two weeks.  I recently joined British Airways Virtual (BAv). 

I’ve known about BAv for over a decade.  Back when I was involved with American Virtual Airlines (AvA), we setup a partnership with BAv and I could tell even back then that this was one finely operated virtual airline.  While I’ll always be proud of the time spent with AvA, and I may even one day go back to AvA.  I can also say that BAv is perhaps the premier VA in all of the internet based flight sim virtual airlines.  Why do I say this?  Well…even back in 2001 when I was first introduced to the world of virtual airlines, BAv was the only VA (I was aware of) which actually had a relationship with their real world counterpart and this is HUGE.

If you’ve been around the virtual airline world long, you have probably heard about VA’s being shut down by their real world counterparts.  I know it has been “virtually” impossible to keep a Fedex virtual airline running for any length of time as the real Fedex Company attorneys will send the management of the Fedex VA a Cease and Desist letter and insist they cease all operation due to copyright infringement.  Fedex is just one example of many I’ve heard about over the years.  Why do some real world airlines take issues with VA’s simulating their operation?  Perhaps I’ll leave this discussion to another article.

Anyway, wanting to spend some time exploring Europe…I decided there was no better airline (and VA for that matter) than to fly British Airways.  I figured if I’m going to do this, I might as well have more purpose to my explorations.  So I pointed my web browser to the British Airways Virtual website and decided to fill out an application.  Now I’ll admit that I have thought about joining BAv before.  However, each time I visited their website they were not hiring.  BAv has a policy to not have any more than 1,250 members.  Luckily, when I checked this time around, they had an opening for 75 pilots and I was able to get my application in ahead of the quota filling up.

Within approx. 24-48 hours I received an email from their HR department with instructions on how to complete their online exam process.  An exam???  Yep, and one of the reasons why I believe this is a First Class VA.  I spent time reviewing the BAv policy documents, their website and sat down at my PC to take the exam.  All the answers to the questions could be found if you had taken the time to read the information.  Within minutes of successfully completing the exam I received my pilot number and temporary credentials to access the BAv website.

While I have thousands of hours logged flying computer flight simulators (and over 1000 hours on VATSIM) I opted to start at the low rank of First Office at BAv and work my way up.  Even with not transferring any hours over to BAv and starting out as First Officer, I can still fly the 737, A319, A320 and A321.  I’ll receive my first promotion to Sr. First Office at 50 hours and to Captain at 100.  I’m having a blast flying routes out of Gatwick and Heathrow in the Boeing 737 and Airbus A3xx. Once I reach 50 hours I’ll have access to the 767 for European routes and at 100 hours will have access to 747 and 777 and can do long-haul routes should I want. 

While VA flying isn’t for everyone.  I can tell you that you’ll find no better VA than BAv when it comes to their requirements of maintaining active membership.  With only one required flight per month and BAv allows for both online (VATSIM and IVAO) along with offline flights to be flown.  It’s easy peasy to not only be an active member, but also remain an active member.

In addition to accumulating flight hours, another element to BAv which I’ve not experienced with other VA’s is the way they award experience points and conformance percentages.  Flight hours are accumulated like any other VA.  However, BAv awards experience points for each flight you make along with nice bonus points for complete flight rotation (EGLL-EBAW-EGLL).  Pilots are also awarded for schedule conformance.  BAv uses actual real world British Airways flight schedules and conformance to these schedules are tracked. 

Finally, BAv uses a small software client called Phoenix to track your flight.  No this isn’t like having Big Brother watching over you (although I can see where some will think this), but more like a flight data recorder.  You simply book your flight on the BAv website, launch Phoenix and retrieve the flight.  Setup your flight and just before you are ready to start engines and push-back, you start the Phoenix client tracking.  Each hour the Phoenix client asks for a position report each hour of flight time.  You simply dial a COM 2 frequency when requested.  Phoenix also handles your PIREP reporting at the end of the flight.  While other VA’s have similar ACARS software, I’ve not seen anything as robust as the BAv Phoenix client. 

Again, VA participation isn’t for everyone.  However, in all the years I’ve been flying computer sims and participating in virtual airlines, BAv truly is for those who are serious about flight simulation.  If you would like to experience a first class virtual airline, then look no further to British Airways virtual.  As of this blog posting, BAv has 41 pilot vacancies, with 33 applications in queue.  Get those applications in today before all slots have been filled.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Is the VA model still alive???

I saw this question mentioned on the VATSIM Forums the other day and it got me thinking.  Is the VA model still alive?  Being someone who has been involved with virtual airlines off and on for a decade now, I sort of began pondering why I joined a VA in the first place and why I re-joined my old VA when coming back into the hobby last year and why I spend many hours a month running the Dallas/Ft. Worth Hub for American virtual Airlines.  By the way, American virtual Airlines just recently celebrated its 10th birthday.  I think this very point is the answer to the overall question.  But we’ll dig a little deeper and see what we find.

First of all….what is a VA?  A VA or Virtual Airline (according to Wikipedia) is a dedicated hobby organization that uses flight simulation to model the operations of an airline.  VA’s date back to time before the “big bang” of the Internet.  VA’s are reported to have been found on services such as Prodigy, CompuServe and AOL.  But I think they could have easily existed before that time…before the time of the Internet age and those previously mentioned online services.  VA’s could have (and probably did) existed between neighborhood friends who manually tracked their time with a Big Chief tablet and a #2 pencil.  I will admit that when flight simulator expanded into the ability to fly to a few more places than just around Meig’s Field, I was tracking my flights and counting up the hours I spent doing so.  Was I in a VA?  I suppose I could have been with MMI Airlines (Me, Myself & I).

I learned about the virtual airline concept one of two ways (I can’t remember for certain, it’s what happens as you get older).  Either I saw something on one of the older versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator or I read about it in one of the Flight Sim Magazines.  This was in the early 2001 timeframe.  At that time the apartment where I lived didn’t live close enough to the Telco central office to receive DSL and I was still on dialup.  Anyway, the concept interested me and I joined several which either were inactive or closed their doors.  In the late summer of 2001 I found AvA. 

Back in this 2001 timeframe, I don’t remember all the various communities to support the hobby.  Sure there were forums, but today there exists various online communities where members come together to share knowledge, swap lies, post screenshots and learn about the hobby.  One of the finest that I know of and proud to call myself a  member is The Flight Simulator Network.  This website was founded by a fellow flight sim enthusiast, Mark Avey and in my opinion is one of the best on the internet.   These communities provide an alternative to the traditional based VA.  Some of these communities have a built-in VA component and some do not.  I understand that The Flight Simulator Network now offers a virtual airline within their website. 

Back to the specific topic of Virtual Airlines and if they matter today.  The general problems with most VA’s today can be lumped into a couple of categories.  The first being lack of experience, the second being lack of funds and possibly a third is lack of maturity.  Take out these key ingredients and a VA will fail to get off the ground.  Please allow me to drill into each of these issues.

I want to start with lack of maturity first.  This doesn’t automatically mean the individual starting the VA is a young person.  It simply means the individual wants to be the CEO of his/her own VA and generally this has been decided because they find fault with an already existing VA or its members. 

Lack of experience is also a HUGE issue with the success or failure of a VA.  Individuals will form a VA without any prior knowledge of how a VA should run. 

The third element is lack of funds.  Any VA website created on a free web service will more than likely fail.  This may not have been the case a decade ago, but today….it will fail…..guaranteed.  Virtual Pilots demand certain functionality which can be difficult to provide on free web services.  Second, most free web services have various pop-up ads that again just aren’t tolerated in this modern Internet age we live in.  One could expect to pay anywhere from $100 up on an annual basis to run a successful virtual airline and in most cases you can’t count on members to donate anything towards the cost. 

There is a final element or issue that does plague VA’s today and that is legal issues.  Most VA’s that portray the operations of a real world counterpart (such as American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Fedex etc. etc.) are doing so somewhat under the radar.  While I won’t say that the real American Airlines doesn’t know about AvA, it is just possible they have not bothered with trying to shut it down.  Many upstart VA’s could expect to receive a “cease and desist” letter from the real world airline they are trying to portray.  Some airlines are more diligent than others.  I think a lot of the reasons why VA’s get shut down by their real world counterparts can fall into the other three elements I previously mentioned.  Some VA’s have been extremely successful at reaching out to their real-world counterpart and not only gaining approval for using copy write material, but also gaining the full support (non-financial) and endorsement.  One of the most successful stories that I know of is British Airways Virtual.  These guys presented their ideas for BAV to the real BA legal and marketing teams and won their full support.  That is incredible.

But aside from all that, is the VA model still alive today?  I say YES, it is.  I’m not just saying this because of my involvement with a VA, I’m saying this from what I experience reading in the various online forums and communities and what I witness each and every time I fly on the VATSIM network.  I see this is the dedication of the virtual pilots who fly for me in the DFW hub. 

If you are reading this and you currently are not involved with a virtual airline, I say join one.  Don’t create a new one just because you want to be the CEO.  Trust me, you’ll regret that decision down the road.  But join an existing VA and experience it from the pilots viewpoint.  If you haven’t experienced a virtual airline from a pilots perspective, how on earth can you be a successful CEO? 

But what virtual airline should you join?  Well…this is not as hard as it may seem.  Most of us that are truly addicted to the flight simulation hobby will have a favorite airline they enjoy flying in the real life.  It may be American, it may be United or Southwest or it might even be Era Alaska as portrayed on the Discovery Channel TV program, seek out and find these VA’s and join up.  You’ll easily be able to tell from their website if they are active or defunct.  Look for VA’s which have an online policy manual and read this before joining.  Look for VA’s which provide automated PIREP systems. 

I would welcome anyone reading this blog post to join me at American virtual Airlines.  If you like the real world AA, AvA is the best VA out there simulating AA operations.  We’ve been around for 10 years and have an active and very experienced management team running every aspect of the VA. 

Again, the VA model is very much alive and kicking.  Consider joining one to take your flight sim hobby to the next level.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Until next time,

Jerry

Another full-circle kind of moment…

As mentioned a few weeks ago here in my March 10th blog posting, some changes were possibly on the horizon for me with American virtual Airlines.  I’m excited to report that I’ve been appointed the Dallas/Ft. Worth Hub Manager for American virtual Airlines.  This was something I had wanted to happen for some time and I’m very excited and honored to accept the role.

My virtual airline (VA) experience all began in DFW with AvA almost 10 years ago.  I honestly can’t remember just how I learned about virtual airlines.  I believe it was either through Flight Simulator itself or in a magazine…but in any event, until the late summer of 2001 my experience with flight simulator was just standalone.  I had been flying computer sims since the early 80’s, but it was 2001 before I paired flight simulator with the internet.

I believe I’ve blogged about the selection process for a virtual airline.  If not, I’ll keep it brief.  Growing up in Texas and working some of my professional career in the DFW area I preferred American Airlines over any of the other carriers.  As a child I had visited DFW airport many times and always marveled at the big shiny aluminum planes.  Also, those who know me know I’m a proud Texan and with AA being headquartered in Texas….well it was just all the right reasons. 

So with the new knowledge of virtual airlines I began my search for an American Airlines version.  Unfortunately, AvA was not the first AA VA I located.  I found another group, joined and was assigned as a pilot to their DFW hub.  My career with this AA VA only lasted a few weeks as the CEO more or less vanished without a trace and the roster was no longer being updated.  So the search began again….

In the August 2001 timeframe I found AvA.  It was born just that previous June, but had already gained a few hundred members and had a half-dozen or more hubs.  Of course I requested DFW and was assigned as a pilot.  While my only real-world aviation experience is in the form of a passenger, I had been flying computer sims at this point for over 15 years and with my few weeks of experience with the other AA VA, the CEO of AvA offered me the position of Vice President of Operations, placing me essentially in the number two position of AvA.

Part of my responsibilities of VP of Ops was the day to day management of the hub managers.  If memory serves me correctly, we had hubs in DFW, ORD, LAX, JFK, MIA, BOS and SJU.  I was responsible for the hiring of new hub managers when a vacancy occurred.  Around the time of my VP of Ops appointment, the DFW hub manager position was open and since I was a pilot in that hub I assumed the manager role and planned to replace myself as soon as possible.  However, a few weeks after that we had more openings in ORD and SJU.  I began filling the positions for ORD and SJU first and basically never replaced myself in DFW. 

Back then the role of a hub manager was much, much more difficult than it is today.  In those early days we didn’t have automated PIREP systems and FSACARS functionality.  We used a web form which the pilot would fill out with all the particulars.  This web form would send the hub manager an email with the information.  The hub manager would then take the information in the email form and manually update an HTML page reflecting the pilots hours.  A good hub manager would update his hub roster page every couple of days.  One that really wanted to stay on top of things would do it daily as a big hub like DFW or ORD could easily produce 20 or more PIREPs per day. 

So much for being brief…..

Fast forward 10 years and I’m now once again the Dallas/Ft. Worth hub manager.  DFW is without a doubt my favorite airport and it is both an honor and privilege to be able to manage this wonderful hub for American virtual Airlines.  While the role of a hub manager has changed slightly since the early days, there is still a lot to do.  The automated PIREP and FSACARS systems that AvA uses do save the tedious task of manually updating a roster.  But certainly nothing has changed in the sense of what I need to do to motivate my pilots and keep everyone in line. 

aal100_dfwWhile each hub manager at AvA believes their hub is the best and the most important….I do know that the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport is the “Jewel in the Crown” of American Airlines.  Now I truly have no intention of climbing any higher in the management ranks than hub manager.  My real-world life and career keeps me way too busy to take on any more. Plus Flight Sim isn’t my only hobby.  But I’m very, very happy to be back home where it all started.  By the way, the photo to the left is my first flight as DFW HM.  Pushing back in the MD80 for a flight to KMEM.

Now I would be remiss if I failed to invite you to become a member of American virtual Airlines.  AvA will celebrate it’s 10th birthday this summer.  We are planning a huge VATSIM event to celebrate.  AvA was the very first virtual airline to be affiliated with the VATSIM network.  We are a 100% online VATSIM virtual airline.  Which simply means that all flights must be flown on the VATSIM network to count towards pilot hours and rank.  Please take a look at our website and if you are interested in joining one of the oldest virtual airlines on the VATSIM network, then please sign up.

Well I believe I’ve kept you long enough from doing whatever it is you were doing before you landed here on my blog page.  I’m glad you stopped by and I’m glad to share with you my adventures in the wonderful hobby we call flight simulation.

Until next time…..

J

Full Circle

If you’ve followed some of my blog posts in the past 4-6 weeks, you know that I started flying on VATSIM again and also re-joined American Virtual Airlines.  AvA was founded in the summer of 2001 and was the very first VA to be affiliated with VATSIM.  While I wasn’t one of the “Founding Fathers”, I did join in August 2001 and within a few weeks had been offered the role of VP of Operations and managed several of the hubs.  AvA was my virtual employer from 2001 until 2004 timeframe. 

I started flying again with AvA just over a month ago.  I joined the DFW hub and for the month of December have accumulated over 52 hours and I still have one more day to go.  Anyway, after a few weeks I contacted the CEO of AvA and offered my assistance in whatever capacity he could use me.  Initially his response was that he would keep me in mind for future openings (as there were none at the time).  About a week later he contacted me again and told me about an open position for the AvA Training Hub.  The position would be to manage the training hub. 

So as you can tell from the subject of this blog post, I was officially offered and I accepted this position.  I officially got started in the position yesterday and am learning about the automated PIREP system and trying to figure out what pilots are active and which ones need to be showed the door.  Don’t worry…I’m not issuing any pink slips just yet.  I granted everyone a 2 week amnesty to either start flying and file their required two PIREPS per month or just simply contact me and let me know what is going on. 

Since this is my blog, I’m going to insert a little “Help Wanted” notice here.  Are you looking to join a virtual airline?  Would you like to fly for one of the oldest and best VA’s?  Want to fly for the best American Airlines group?  At American Virtual Airlines we offer a fully automated PIREP system complete with FSACARS/FSPassengers/FS Flight Keeper/XAcars integration.  We offer a low commitment of only filing two PIREPs per month to remain fully active and while all flights must be flown on the VATSIM network, this really only enhances your overall FlightSim experiences. 

I would love if you would stop by American Virtual Airlines and submit an application.  If you have less than 100 verifiable VATSIM hours you’ll be assigned to the training hub.  We offer complete training (soon to be fully automated) to help get you started flying on the VATSIM network. 

As Frank Sinatra would sing…..Come Fly With Me, Let’s Fly, Let’s Fly Away.

Happy New Year!

Jerry

Hello Fellow Flight Simulator Enthuasists

OK…where to start?  Oh I know…let me tell you about myself.  My name is Jerry, I live in Denver, Colorado.  I’m less than 5 miles from KAPA and about 20 miles from KDEN.  I’m married to a wonderful woman who supports all my various hobbies.  Before moving to Denver in 1998, I lived in Dallas, Texas.  I lived very close to KADS and about 15 miles from the awesome KDFW airport.   As a child we would visit the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and one of my two highlights would be visiting Six Flags over Texas and KDFW to watch the planes.

I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes and flight.  Now the weird thing is I’ve never had any desire to learn to fly and/or pursue my private pilots license.  I know….this may sound weird…but it is what it is.  My Uncle has his PPL and he took me flying for the first time in a small Cessna when I was a small child.   While I wouldn’t fly again for 10+ years (and my first commercial flight was around the age of 16) I always loved watching airplanes.  Even as a “Big” kid, I love all aspects of travel (well perhaps not the waiting in security lines).  I love getting to the airport early and watching the planes and the people. 

I’ve been flying computer simulator games for over 25 years.  Yes….they’ve been around that long.  It all started for me with the Commodore 64 computer.  The Commodore 64 computer launched my flight sim hobby, but more importanly it helped launch the career I’ve enjoyed for almost 20 years in IT.  This IT career has helped to further my enjoyment of the hobby with a better understanding of how computer hardware and software functions together and has provided the opportunity for me to fly around the world. 

In the early days of computer flight simulation it was all very basic compared to what we have today withMicrosoft Flight Simulator X.  While a friend of mine had a TRS-80 around 1982-83, I didn’t personally own a flight simulator program until 1984 when a company called SubLOGIC created Flight Simulator II.  This was the second generation flight simulator and was amazing. 

While I was interested in a few other “computer games”, flight simulator was the one that I spent the most time playing.  Now I already mentioned that these early versions were basic.  While I haven’t played Flight Simulator II in over 20 years, I do remember you would start off at Meig’s Field in Chicago.  I honestly believe that was about it.  I believe (but not 100% certain) that KORD was represented in the software as well as several other smaller airports.  However, that was about it.   I also remember a few updates to the Commodore 64 version.  Towards the end of my Commodore experience I had obtained some sectional maps and such of the areas where airports were represented.  I still only flew with a joystick but my skills were improving with every hour of flying time. 

My Commodore 64 computer was finally replaced in the late 80’s with an IBM PC.  My flight sim hobby took off from there with the Microsoft Flight Simulator version 3.0.  This was a HUGE jump from the version I had been flying on the old Commodore.  In the complete history of Microsoft Flight Simulator software, I did miss out on versions 1.0 and 2.0.  Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 (the first MS product I used with a PC) 3 aircraft including the Cessna we had all known to love along with a learjet and a Sopwith Camel.   The graphics were much improved over the Commodore 64 version and for the first time you could actually look outside of the aircraft.  From MSFS 3.0, I’ve owned every version released and each release was better and better and I couldn’t wait until the next one would come out.

Over the years as the graphics improved so did the options.  Microsoft began adding more scenery and a lot more choices for aircraft to fly.  With the birth of the Internet, an entire industry was born to cater to this exciting hobby.  No more were you just limited to the features Microsoft provided….you had access to hundreds…probably thousands of different add-on products to enhance your experience.  You could fly around the world and land just about anywhere.  “Real World” airports and the accurate scenery around them was all being developed into the software or available through a third party add-on. 

Again, while I’m fairly confident I’ve owned every version of Microsoft Flight Simulator since version 3.0 (circa 1988), for me personally it was Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (aka version 7.0) that really pushed the game experience into a true hobby.   I picked up a flight yoke and peddles and joined a virtual airline or VA for short.  I have flown for several VA’s over the years.  The first was a VA setup as American Airlines.  It soon went bust.  I then joined a VA operating as Air Canada and then found another American Airlines VA which looked awesome.  I joined and within a short period of time had worked my way up in the management ranks to VP of Operations and also managed the DFW Hub. 

In this timeframe I began flying online and experiencing operating with other online pilots and online ATC (Air Traffic Control) through a network called VATSIM.  During this same timeframe I was traveling more and more both through work and for personal reasons.  I would fly from KDEN to KDFW, then down to KILE (now KGRK) to visit family a few times a year.  One of my favorite things to do would be to re-create the flight before and after a trip.  I would fly the same aircraft at the same time of the day etc.  It almost became a pre-trip ritual.  My first real international (over the pond) flight was in the Spring of 2001.  I was headed to our London office for 3 weeks.  My real-life trip would take me from KDEN to KDFW then to London’s Gatwick airport EGKK.  I simulated this trip in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (version 7.0) before and after my real-world flight.

Microsoft has used the phrase “As Real As It Gets” since at least the days of Flight Simulator 95 (version 6.0).  It all became too “As Real As It Gets” with the release of Flight Simulator 2002 (version 8.0).  Microsoft had planned to release FS 2002 in mid-September 2001.  When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, Microsoft delayed the release of 2002 so developers could remove the WTC twin towers from all copies of the software.  As a way of paying respect to those who perished that day, all online flights taking place on VATSIM were suspended for the same duration that real-life air traffic operations were shut down.  I was scheduled to fly to London on 14 September for business.  Needless to say this trip was cancelled.  I wouldn’t fly again until just before Christmas of that same year. 

I continued participating with VA’s until sometime in late 2006 when life just really got busy for me.  Like with any hobby, my flight simulation hobby had to be set aside.   My wife and I bought a house and my job has changed dramatically over the years.  Just before I put the cockpit and software in storage I had purchased the latest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (version 10.0).  At the time of FSX release, my computer was a weakling and there wasn’t a lot of add-ons available.  I’m also not even sure FSX at the time would work on the VATSIM network.  But I had to have it and purchased it soon after it came out. 

Now it is late Summer 2010.  I was flipping through the TV channels and came across a History Channel program about to start called Extreme Airports and I was reminded of how much I loved flying the flight simulator software.   The PC I used back in the 2005/06 timeframe still had FS9 and FSX installed.  I connected my GoFlight gear, my yoke and peddles and flew from KDEN to KDFW in FS9.  My old PC just wasn’t powerful enough to run FSX.  But this was soon resolved. 

I’ll blog about my new “Beast” of a PC on the next post and bring you all up to speed on what I’ve been doing to get started in this awesome hobby again. 

Until next time,

J