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

Flight Simulator meets Second Life – A Review of Andras Field by Aerosoft

The virtual world aspect is nothing new to us sim pilots.  We nailed the virtual concept down many years ago and each year we’ve worked hard to make it better.  While the early days were limited to a single player game, over time this has blossomed into what we enjoy today with multi-player groups like FlightSim Nation, Flight Simulator Network and even larger true-to-life experiences with VATSIM and IVAO.  With Microsoft Flight Simulator X and add-on scenery such as Orbx Pacific Northwest and Stark’s Twin Oaks Airpark, one can be fully immersed in what Microsoft has been calling “As Real As It Gets” for many years.  It’s hard to imagine it getting any better than this.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the online virtual community called Second Life.  Second Life has been around since 2003 and as of 2010 has an estimated 18 million registered accounts.  Yours truly has one of those 18 million accounts, but I’ve not visited the community in over 2 years.  At a very high level glance, you register for a Second Life account and install their free client software.  Second Life is absolutely free to join and use, but free accounts have many limitations.  When you join you create an avatar and move around within the Second Life virtual world.  Second Life has become popular in the corporate world as well as the arts, science and religious spaces as well.   One can even buy property in Second Life.

I would estimate my account dates back to around 2006 or so, so I by no means can be considered as an early adopter of Second Life.  I played around with it on a free account and then upgraded to a paid account and then completely lost interest even before my one-year subscription expired.  While it was cool moving around the different virtual areas and meeting people, (I even explored the Titanic) I felt it was missing something to keep me fully engaged.  Plus I got the impression I was mainly interacting with kids and very young adults.  It got old really fast.

The one element to Second Life that I always thought about was how it might be neat to be able to combine some aspects of Second Life into the Flight Simulator hobby or vice versa.  For example, as I stated earlier in Second Life one can buy land.  The land purchase can be either already developed or can be undeveloped space.  While I never purchased land in Second Life, the idea of being able to do something like this in relation to the Flight Simulator hobby interested me.  Of course, I’m not a software designer and never really took the idea outside of my head and shared it with others.  Thankfully someone else had the same idea and did act on it.

I recently learned of a project called Andras Field which has been in development for several months and available for download/purchase since 30 June 2010.  Andras Field is a fictive airport located in Southern Bavaria, close to the Swiss and Austrian border.  The add-on software is available through Aerosoft and as of this blog posting, the current version is 1.10 (full build) with update 1.12 applied on top.  Updates are made available as property is sold.  More about this later.

Again, as of this blog posting Andras Field is sold through Aerosoft for $27.36 USD.  This price is very competitive for all that you get with this add-on product.  Andras Field is more than just an airport, it is an entire airpark including a 7,006 foot asphalt runway, 2,000 foot grass glider base and a 6,000 foot water runway.  Need space to land your favorite heli?  No worries…you’ll find plenty of space at Andras Field to do just that.  Still want more?

Andras Field includes all the amenities one would expect in a self-contained airport city.  You’ll find servicing facilities, restaurants, hotels and residential properties designed by pilots for pilots.  When ready to fly, your airplane can be rolled out of your private attached garage and in minutes you’ll be on the active runway.

But how does all this tie in with Second Life?  Well…like Second Life, you can buy commercial or residential property for real money at Andras Park.  You can have the developers place a standard house/hangar or you can model your own to have placed on your plot for all to see including your name on the street sign.  Updates are made available every ten days or so.

I haven’t decided if I’ll buy some virtual property.  But I have had fun with this software add-on. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

Flight Simulator Network – A First in the FS Community

If you’re like me, when you’re not sitting down in your home cockpit flying…you want to be tuned into the flight simulator community news and happenings.  This might be through forums, message boards, Twitter or even Facebook.  By the way, you can now follow me on Twitter.  I’ve been using Twitter for a couple of years now and have created a special Twitter account specific to Flight Sim.  During the work week I will eat lunch at my desk and peruse the forums looking for answers to questions and/or trying to help others by answering their questions.

This morning as I was easing into my day with a nice hot cup of coffee and reading email and checking my Twitter feed from my iPad, I came across both an email and a tweet titled “World First for The Flight Simulator Network – Real Time Updates on your Desktop”.  Both the tweet and the email directs you to this blog post by Mark Avey.  You can read more about Mark here.  The subject of the blog post is an announcement regarding how to receive (and send) real time updates to/from The Flight Simulator Network right to your desktop.  Like Mark, I’ve been in the IT industry for almost two decades and this news story (along with the help of the strong coffee) really got me excited about the day.

Seesmic Desktop Client setup with feed from The Flight Simulator Network and Twitter

Please don’t forget to read the story here.

I’ve known about the Seesmic Desktop client for a while.  Until today, I had been a hard core user of Tweetdeck to manage my Twitter accounts (I have several).  But all this will change with the cool functionality that the Seesmic desktop client offers to help me organize my FS Twitter account and news and info from The Flight Simulator Network. 

So….if you’re a member of The Flight Simulator Network, please read this articleand setup the Seesmic Desktop client.  If you’re not a member of The Flight Simulator Network, please considerjoining this fine community.  I’m a proud member!

OK…I need to now go checkout Seesmic for iPhone and iPad. 

Until next time,

J

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