Reader Question – What is CTAF?

Hello to all my loyal readers.  We have a question regarding the use of CTAF on the VATSIM network and I felt it was worthy to share with everyone.

Hello Jerry, I occasionally fly on the VATSIM network and have been curious about the use of the CTAF frequency versus just the standard unicom frequency of 122.800.  Why the change?  And can you share any tips on finding the correct CTAF frequency for any given airport?  Thank you, Dennis.

Well Dennis….you bring up a very good question and one I should have probably addressed long ago.  VATSIM announced back around the first of the year that beginning on 1 March 2024 they would be trialing a new procedure for uncontrolled airspace whereby VATSIM pilots would need to tune into the local CTAF frequency versus just using the old standard UNICOM frequency of 122.800.

What is CTAF?

Let’s first explain what CTAF means.  CTAF stands for Common Traffic Advisory Frequency.  It’s a real world process for carrying our airport advisory practices while operating to or from an airport without an operating control tower.  Each airport will have a unique CTAF frequency which is published on charts for pilots to use.

Why is VATSIM making this change?

As discussed in the VATSIM announcement from earlier this year, VATSIM is trialing this change for North American starting 1 March 2024.  This change is to more closely align with real world operating procedures and to better reduce radio chatter.

When to use CTAF versus 122.800?

Essentially, the use of the published CTAF frequency is only needed when an airport isn’t staffed by an online VATSIM controller.  However, if an airport controller isn’t online, pilots should use the CTAF frequency for their departing or arrival airport.  What I’ve found to work for me is to use the CTAF frequency within a 30-40 mile radius of the airport.  So when departing an uncontrolled airport, I will tune to the CTAF frequency for that airport and announce my intentions.  Once I depart and am above 10,000 feet, I’ll then switch to the old UNICOM freq of 122.800.

How to locate CTAF Frequencies?

There are many different ways to locate the CTAF frequency for a given airport.  Charts are certainly one way.  However, there’s an even better way and that is to type .ctaf xxxx (dot ctaf and airport ICAO) into the VATSIM client message box and hit enter.  A few moments later, you’ll receive a response with the correct CTAF frequency.  Alternatively, you can also use the VATSIM AIP site to search for the correct CTAF frequency.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, not everyone is catching onto the new CTAF process.  The trial is well into its 3rd month and many pilots are still using the old UNICOM frequency of 122.800 when they should be using CTAF.  So…my advice, when flying on the VATSIM network do your best to stay informed to all the current processes and use CTAF.

I hope this helps explain the new CTAF frequency process for VATSIM.  If you are flying on the VATSIM network and doing so in North American, I would encourage you to follow the correct procedures not only for your full enjoyment, but also that of others.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!


VATSIM Changes

Somewhat off the heels of my recent The Basics of VATSIM tutorial, an updated tutorial on updating Prepar3D to version 4.5 and another little ditty on To Update or Not to Update Prepar3D,  I’m going to discuss a few things related to VATSIM that has me slightly concerned.  Most likely this will end up being more or less an opinion piece.  Just remember, we’re all entitled to our own opinions.  Your opinion may differ from mine and while I welcome you to comment…just keep your response civil.  Thank you!


I was perusing the FSElite site earlier this morning and found an article dated 11 April of this year regarding a new FCOM VATSIM/IVAO Message Forwarding System which has been in testing and is now generally available. 

In a nutshell, FCOM is designed to forward messages received through either the VATSIM or IVAO clients to a users Discord via private message.  In the FSElite article on the subject of FCOM there is a short demo video which demonstrates the system working. 

Anyone reading this posting or even the original at FSElite might be asking themselves, “What’s the Big Deal?”  “This is pretty cool” and “this is just what I’ve been needing”.  Sigh…

The VATSIM Code of Conduct clearly states, (Section A. 9) “When logging on to the network, a member is not permitted to leave his or her connection unattended for a period in excess of thirty (30) minutes. If a member is unable to comply with this requirement, then he or she must log off of the network. A member who is found to be unresponsive for more than thirty (30) minutes is subject to immediate removal from the network. Members who are found to repeatedly leave their connections unattended are subject to the terms of  Article VI. of the Code of Regulations.”

In my 18 years of being a member of VATSIM, belonging to and holding various staff positions in many virtual airlines and also running my very own for a few years, I’ve witnessed first hand and heard many accounts of this rule being broken.  I’ve even witnessed this rule blatantly being abused by some prominent YouTube/Twitch Flight Simmers. 

Of course, the punishment can be costly for those who repeatedly abuse this policy as mentioned above and documented in the VATSIM Code of Regulations.  Specifically Article VI which discusses suspension and expulsion from the network.  As I mentioned in the recent “The Basics of VATSIM tutorial”, VATSIM is serious about ensuring their network doesn’t turn into a wasteland of abusers like other multiplayer networks we may know about.  Again, I’m looking at TruckersMP. 

Here’s my concern with this.  First, this is an already existing problem on the network.  Many users will fire up a “Cross the Pond”flight just before going to bed and gamble that ATC won’t contact them or that they’ll hear the “ping” when they are sleeping just to get some hours in the system.  You can read the sob stories of these same pilots on the VATSIM forums, Facebook groups etc. where they didn’t hear the ping and they promise never to do it again.  So now a third party FCOM solution is introduced which will direct any messages a pilot might receive to their Discord via a private message.  I can hear/see the sob stories of “I didn’t get a message”…please unsuspend me. 

Look, I’m a busy guy.  While I’ve been a VATSIM member from the beginning (18 years ago), I’ve racked up a total of 1,950 hours.  While I realize this number only averages out to just over 100 hours per year…the vast majority of these hours are what I call “Butt in Seat” hours.  Meaning, my rear end was in my chair with my headset on my head and me at the controls of my aircraft.  Plus….and this is what I’m most proud of…in 18 years being a VATSIM member and accumulating almost 2000 flight hours on the network…I’ve never been suspended and I’ve never received a warning from a supervisor. 

Yes, I do other things when I’m flying long flights.  I get up to stretch my legs, I get up to go to the bathroom, I get up to go upstairs to get food or drink (as my wife refuses to be my trolley dolly) and yes I even occasionally will do tasks such as clean my office and even do laundry.  What?  You mean your Boeing 747 doesn’t have a washer and dryer in the back?  But the time away from the virtual flight deck is generally no more than 10-15 minutes at a time. 

Bottom line…if you’re going to enjoy the hobby of flight simulation, then be there for all the fun and adventure.  Not somewhere else with your eyes/ears glued to your smartphone and Discord.

Voice Unicom

My God I can ‘bang on’ about stuff can’t I?  OK…so for those who may not know, VATSIM will soon enable voice Unicom.  For those who may not be fully aware of how Unicom works, I’ll tell you.  When you are logged onto the VATSIM network and you are flying in uncontrolled airspace, we dial up the Unicom VHF frequency of 122.80.  This allows the virtual pilot to type text messages which other pilots will see (within a short range of each other) so we can announce our intentions.  This is specifically useful when you are either going to depart or land at an uncontrolled airport.  Typically the type of messages I’ll send are as follows:


“KDFW Traffic, American 1066 push/start from gate C17, taxi to rwy 17R”.   Then once I reach the runway, I’ll text “KDFW Traffic, American 1066 departing 17R via the MRSSH2 Departure to the SE”.  Finally, “American 1066 clear rwy 17R”


“KDEN Traffic, American 1066 is inbound on the HUDAD2 Arrival, Crossing XXX and leaving FL380, expecting rwy 35L”  Once I’m closer to the field I’ll message saying “KDEN Traffic, American 1066 is on 11nm final for rwy 35L” Finally, “KDEN Traffic, American 1066 clr 35L, taxi to A50”

While I will agree that texting on Unicom breaks the immersion, so does departing or landing at either DFW or DEN with no ATC. 

For the past 18 years, the Unicom frequency of 122.80 has been text only.  Even with this frequency being “text only” it does get abused from time to time.  The purpose of Unicom (as I described above) is merely to announce your intensions so other pilots are aware and to avoid (if possible) any issues.  This often is abused with pilots using Unicom as an instant message/chat platform.  However, even when it’s being abused…it’s not as annoying as I can imagine it will be on voice.

From what I understand, once implemented…the voice Unicom frequency will behave very similar to how it does today with text.  The range will be slightly higher when in the air and much less when on the ground.  But my main concern is when voice Unicom is abused (and it will be) it’s going to be a royal pain in the backside. 

While I do enjoy having gate to gate ATC, generally when I’m flying on VATSIM it’s either early in the morning or late at night and I can’t always be guaranteed ATC coverage.  I’m a bit strange when it comes to picking my flights as I rarely hop around.  I typically resume my flight from the airport I last landed.  After all, in the real world our teleport capabilities just aren’t ready for prime time.  So having said that, I tend to fly A LOT in uncontrolled airspace.  When I’m sitting at the flight deck I might be reading, watching TV or even typing a blog article as I happen to be doing now high above the Gulf of Mexico as I fly my American Airlines PMDG Boeing 737-800 from the Big Easy (KMSY) down to Miami (KMIA) to setup for a trip later down to Princes Juliana International Airport (TNCM) on the beautiful island of St. Maarten.  The last thing I want to experience is someone else abusing the frequency with discussions about what they are eating for dinner.  If I wanted to hear that, I would fire up my ham radios (which by the way, I do often have them on and listening to a traffic net).  Anyway….

My wife tells me I’m turning into a grumpy old man.  Well I’ve earned it!  LOL  Of course, VATSIM has stated that they’ll monitor Unicom and handle any abuse of the frequency with swift action.  If it becomes a wasteland of abuse, VATSIM has stated they will switch it off.  We’ll see and I’m hopefully optimistic all will function as they hope.  After all, yes….I will agree that announcing your intentions or hearing from other pilots is much, much easier than typing.  Just don’t wreck my tranquil environment. 

OK…I’ve gotta go now.  I’m less than 50nm from Miami and I need to pay attention to what I’m doing here.  Plus I need to announce my intentions on Unicom since there’s no ATC and many other aircraft in the vicinity. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!



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