As I’ve been writing about the flight simulation hobby for just over 10 years, I’ve covered the topic of virtual airlines a few times. However, with the release of the brand new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 the doors of our hobby have been swung wide open and we’re seeing hundreds, thousands and even perhaps tens of thousands of brand new flight simmers arriving into our hobby. As a matter of fact, Microsoft recently released some statistics regarding just how many individual users have been flying MSFS2020. Care to wager a guess as to how many have spent some time with the new flight sim? As of 3 September, over 1 million unique users have used the new sim and recorded over 1 billion flight miles. WOW. You can read more about these statistics here.
Of course, within these numbers are individual YouTube content creators and Twitch Live streamers who were given a copy of MSFS2020 (some even a full setup with yoke, rudder pedals etc.) who spent a bit of time and will never, ever return. But I digress…
What is a Virtual Airline and Do I need to join one?
Virtual Airlines or VA’s for short, are essentially online clubs or groups which are formed to represent one or more real world airlines. In some cases a VA might represent a completely fictional airline, but most will emulate a real world airline in some form. The majority of VA’s I’ve been associated with will also operate under a ranking system whereby you’ll work your way up from smaller aircraft as you accumulate flight hours. However, this may not always be the case. Finally, each VA should have an established set of rules which will need to be followed to remain in active status. I’ll discuss this a bit later.
have been around for over two decades and perhaps even longer. I’ve told the story about my friend and I who both had Commodore 64 computers in the mid 80’s. We both owned Flight Simulator for the C64 and we both tracked our flights, shared our numbers with each other. On at least a few occasions, we came together in the same location with each of our C64’s and flew from point A to point B. One could argue this was a virtual airline, but thankfully the world of VA’s have vastly improved since the days of a Big Chief tablet and a number 2 pencil. Of course, a VA is much more than just tracking flights and accumulating hours.
Virtual airlines began to appear in the mid to late 90’s, however I’ve heard of VA’s existing on AOL, CompuServe and other online BBS systems even before the internet became what it is today. The first internet VA I joined was in the 1998 timeframe. At this time the websites were often crudely designed and there was very little in the form of automation. PIREPS (Pilot Reports) were often just a web form which needed to be reviewed by the hub manager and then he/she would update the roster. It was all a manual process. Today’s more modern VA’s will offer completion automation in the form of an ACAR’s application that tracks all elements of the flight and will automagically file the PIREP once you’ve safely arrived at your destination and parked at the gate.
The heart of any good VA is its people and management team. In the almost 25 years I’ve been flying for internet based virtual airlines, I’ve flown for some of the best and a few of the worst. While a spiffy website and lots of bells and whistles might lead you to believe it to be a quality VA, some of the less shining examples have been some of the better ones I’ve experienced. But as I’ve said, it really boils down to the members and the management team overseeing the operation.
Have It Your Way
Depending on what you want from your virtual airline experience, you shouldn’t have an issue finding a VA that fits your flying style. If you are new to the flight simulation hobby, I highly encourage you to find a VA that offers a rank structure and while I know everyone eventually wants to fly the heavies…you’ll appreciate the time, patience and personal rewards of starting out as a CAT 1 pilot and put your hours in. After all, in the real world a brand new pilot doesn’t go from nothing to flying a Boeing 747 without first serving their time in a Boeing 737. When I first began my VA career back in 2000 with an American Airlines VA, I served my time flying short hops of generally 1-2 hours in a Saab 340B and ATR-72. After about 100 hours I was able to move up to the Fokker 100, MD-80 etc. If memory serves, it wasn’t until I had racked up ~500 hours before I could fly the 777.
Choices, Choices and even More Choices
Most will choose their VA based on airline preference, others might select a VA based on aircraft selection. Some would rather transport boxes and cargo. Regardless how you like your tea, you’ll certainly find what you’re looking for in the VA world. Of course, some pilots will fly for more than one VA and there’s certainly nothing wrong with this pending you have the available time to meet your minimum requirements.
Speaking of Requirements
At a minimum, most VA’s will require you to fly at least two flights per month to remain in active status. Some VA’s require more and some less. Of course, most will allow a short LOA (leave of absence) to accommodate real life schedule conflicts. However, keep in mind that some VA’s will limit the number of times per year that any pilot can request a LOA.
Online vs. Offline Flying
Some VA’s may require all flights to be flown online. While flying on the VATSIM or IVAO network may not be everyone’s cup of tea, flying online is an awesome experience and just simply can’t be duplicated by artificial ATC. Yes, there is a significant learning curve to with VATSIM/IVAO. These are not just online networks where one can connect and do whatever he/she pleases. There is a structure and organization to flying online and is meant for serious virtual pilots. If you are interested in learning more about flying online and specifically the VATSIM network, please read this.
Virtual Airlines which use an ACARS type flight tracking system may have certain requirements regarding landing rate. In other words, if you haven’t quite mastered the art of smooth landings you should probably practice, practice and practice some more until you can successfully land your aircraft as smooth as possible. While I personally detest landing rate competitions and placing an importance around ultra low numbers. A landing rate above 500 FPM in most situations will be regarded as a hard landing. Anything above 750 in a jet is considered very hard and in the real life could actually cause damage to the aircraft and endanger the lives of passengers and crew. VA’s who have policies around landing rate requirements may choose to reject a filed PIREP if the landing rate is high.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Much like I stated in my “The Basics of VATSIM” tutorial (near the bottom), if you’ve reached this point and have realized joining a virtual airline seems more trouble than its worth, that really isn’t my intention. Within the flight simulation hobby, I’m my most happiest when I’m flying for a VA as I enjoy the structure and the camaraderie which only a virtual airline can provide. However, for the enjoyment of all….you will need to be prepared to follow the rules and as I’ve pointed out the rules (or lack thereof) will vary from VA to VA. Failure to comply will only force the VA and their management team to quickly show you the door.
I’m going to provide you a few recommendations based on my experiences over the past 20+ years. I would encourage you to visit these VA websites and read their policy manuals, then choose the one that you fill best suits you.
American virtual Airlines
American virtual Airlines, AvA earned the distinction of being the very first virtual airline to be affiliated with the VATSIM network. It is also one of the oldest. AvA requires all flights to be flown on the VATSIM network, requires two flights per month to remain active and requires pilots to adhere to a rank structure. You really won’t find a better VA, and certainly not one representing American Airlines. AvA allows pilots to fly any of the OneWorld partner flights which in addition to AAL offers the virtual pilots another dozen or so airlines to choose from.
Virtual United Airlines
Virtual United Airlines, vUAL is the premier VA representing the real world United Airlines. vUAL does require a minimum of two flights per month, but does not require flights to be flown online. However, you will need to use their ACARS program.
Southwest virtual Airlines
If flying the Boeing 737 is your cup of tea, then you’ll find no better representation of Southwest Airlines than at SWAVirtual. SWAVirtual requires one flight per month to remain active and does not require online flying (but highly encourages it). A general knowledge exam is administered at the time of submitting an application.
British Airways Virtual
BAVirtual has been around since 2000 and once held the distinction as being authorized by their real world counterpart, that being the real British Airways. BAVirtual requires one flight per month and does not require online flights. BAv does limit the number of pilots and therefore a waiting list might delay your application approval. Much like SWAv, a general knowledge exam with a passing score is required at the time of submitting an application.
If you really don’t want to be tied down to just one airline, and you aren’t interested in joining multiple VA’s, then you might be interested in UK Virtual. UK Virtual is the home to over 100 different airlines and over 20,000 schedules to choose from. All the major airlines are available including freight carriers like Fedex, UPS and DHL. UK Virtual does not require online flights, but of course highly encourages it. There are no aircraft restrictions and basically you can fly for any of the airlines they feature and any of the aircraft within those airlines fleet. UK Virtual offers many different tours around the world.
Well, there you have it. The above list of virtual airlines are some of the best you’ll find on the internet. I’ve spent some time with each of them over the years.
At the top of this article I asked whether or not you need to join a virtual airline. Hopefully by now you’ve figured out the answer to that question. I can’t really tell you one way or the other as everyone has their own method of defining their own enjoyment factor. In the 20+ years I’ve been flying, I’ve spent time flying with VA’s and I’ve spent time just doing my own thing. For about three years I even operated my own fictional cargo based airline and built up the member community to over 100 active virtual pilots.
Today I’m only flying for AvA and UK Virtual. These two VA’s give me exactly what I’m looking for. AvA provides the structure I enjoy while belonging to a virtual airline and UK Virtual provides me the flexibility to more or less do whatever I want, whenever I want. I’m really enjoying the UK Virtual tours at the moment and working my way through the first half of the Route 66 tour.
If you have questions regarding VA membership, please drop me a note or head over to my Discord and message me. I’d be happy to answer any questions.
Until next time…
A question I’ve been pondering recently, Is the virtual airline concept dead in modern times? Back in the very late 1990’s and early 2000’s, VA’s or virtual airlines were all the rage. They continued to be a very popular addition to the virtual aviation hobby. Over the years, I’ve been a part of many different VA’s, served in various capacities from just a regular pilot, hub manager, executive management and even started my own fictional virtual airline a few years ago.
The Early Days
In the very early days of the virtual airline concept, the websites/communities were often (by today’s standards) crude, low-tech representations attempting to replicate their real world airline counterpart. The online presence generally consisted of a basic website (often built using free hosting, complete with pop-up ads) with a few pages to include a main/welcome page, pilot rosters, management structure, rules/SOP and often a forum. With time, more advanced websites were created complete with automated PIREP logging and tracking features. These automated features soon became the norm for most sites.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Unfortunately, VA’s which mirror the operations of a real world airline (American, Southwest, Fedex, British Airways etc.) struggled long ago and still do to avoid getting into legal troubles with their real world counterparts. I’ve seen VA’s pop-up with a complete website, begin hiring pilots and management then close their doors after receiving a cease and desist letter from an attorney representing the real world airline. Even with disclaimers posted about this website is not affiliated with the real world airline, the letters kept coming and the VA’s kept closing. The primary issue here is the misuse of copyright and intellectual property which belong to the real world airline. I certainly can understand why this was done. Some of these sites were extremely crude in nature, but some, while having a professional appearance could actually become confusing to some who were seeking out the real world airline website. Bottom line, while the “freedom of speech” protects us in many ways…it doesn’t give us any rights to use property (including logos etc.) which belong to others any way we please.
Please and Thank You
Some VA’s actually managed to ask for and gain permission from their real world counterpart. One example is British Airways Virtual (BAVirtual). They were perhaps one of the first to actually accomplish this and to this day are one of the premier virtual airlines on the interwebz. For BAv, it all started back in the year 2000. While virtual airlines were popping up everywhere, many were based on fictional airlines and only a few actually existed in the UK. The folks behind BAv wanted to change this, so they set out to create not only a professional looking and fully functional website…but also gain the permission and cooperation of their real world counterpart, the real British Airways. As I’ve often stated, I’ve been a part of this hobby for a very long time. I was around it before the internet and I was around when BAv came onto the scene. I actually was serving as the VP of Operations for American virtual Airlines (the oldest VA on the VATSIM network) and remember speaking to the management of BAv as we established codeshare agreements between AvA and BAv to replicate the OneWorld Alliance. It was great times back then and there are plenty of times that I miss flying for and being a part of AvA.
A New Way
A number of years ago, I was perusing YouTube seeking out flight sim content and stumbled onto a YouTube content creator by the name of Matt Davies. Matt was running a very successful YouTube channel (also has a very successful Twitch channel) and I found his presentation style very enjoyable. Not to mention, he actually knows what he’s talking about. Matt has created content and selflessly shared his knowledge over the years and while there’s no way of knowing exactly how many new people he’s attracted into this hobby, his commitment to this hobby is truly second to none. As time passed, I watched more and more of his recorded content on YouTube and his livestreams on Twitch, I learned he (and a few others) were developing a new virtual aviation environment called ProjectFly.
What exactly is ProjectFly? Well…I’m going to just quote some info directly from their website. “In simple terms it is a versatile platform allowing you to give or take as much from your hobby as you would like. Whether you simply wish to fly from point A to point B in your Cessna without any realistic procedures, follow the path of a real pilot through their training and type rating ready to simulate that daily routine of a low cost captain or even if you simply want a community of like-minded individuals”
I love ProjectFly
For all the reasons in the above quoted and italicized comment above and a lot more. If asked what my number one favorite real world airline is, my answer without hesitation is American Airlines. But I also enjoy flying and replicating the flights of many other airlines such as Southwest, Frontier, Fedex, British Airways and the list goes on and on and on. But most VA’s really want their pilots only flying real world routes which they have setup in their systems and rightfully so. Also, I just simply don’t have the time to ensure I can keep up with the minimum number of flights when belonging to multiple virtual airlines.
ProjectFly allows me to fly for any airline I desire and there are no minimum commitments. I can fly every day for a month and I can skip a few months without any flights and no one is going to harass me to get my flights in. I can also fly any aircraft type I choose, regardless of the number of hours I have logged. The talented developers behind ProjectFly have developed an exceptional software client that is easy to install, configure and seamlessly just does what it’s suppose to. From that client I can setup new flights, add new aircraft, view my flight log and it tracks and logs my flights effortlessly. ProjectFly has also developed a “Passport” feature which tracks/stamps the countries you’ve landed in. The passport displays the nations flag once you successfully land and calculates the percentage of countries you’ve visited. In addition to the passport feature, all your flights are tracked on a map which is visible on the client documenting all the routes you’ve flown. As you can see from the image below, I’ve logged just under 100 flights in the ProjectFly system and have visited just 9% of the countries in the world. I better get busy huh?
A snapshot of my passport showing the nations of Australia, Austria and Belgium as visited.
ProjectFly also offers various achievements (similar to Steam achievements) to work towards. As you can see I’ve earned several including my first flight, long-haul, Challenging Approach Gibraltar and a few others.
I’ve only listed a few of the features available with ProjectFly and there’s a ton more in development. You can learn all about ProjectFly by visiting the ProjectFly website.
Answering The Question
Is the virtual airline concept dead in modern times? Absolutely NOT! Virtual Airlines are thriving in this day and age. However, they all suffer from the issues I’ve previously pointed out and if you’re a busy person like I am, you might just not have the time to commit to their rules and policy’s. Again, ProjectFly is a very relaxed and laid back environment where you can pretty much do whatever you wish. Some may argue that ProjectFly lacks the social aspects of a traditional airline. However, the ProjectFly team have setup both a forum and a discord channel, so my advice is jump right in, introduce yourself and get busy flying.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read my content. If you have a question regarding flight sim or needs some help, I’m always willing to lend a hand. The best method of contacting me is to join my Discord channel. You can post a message in the chat channel or private message me and I’ll do my best to help you any way possible.
Until next time….
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…