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,