The American Virtual Experience

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Long time readers of my blog will certainly know that I’ve discussed the subject of virtual airlines (VA’s) many times.  I’ve shared with my readers the pros and cons of VA membership and I’ve also shared my experiences with some of the best and worst the internet has to offer.  This writing is going to focus on a new (to me) virtual airline and why you should join today.

During the internet age of my flight simulation experience, I’ve always enjoyed being a member of a virtual airline community.  For me personally, I’ve found VA membership brings a sense of purpose to my flight simulation hobby.  Especially when flying jetliners around the world.  I’ve held memberships in many different VA’s over the past two decades and served in many capacities including pilot, hub manager, executive management and even owned my own fictional cargo based VA for about 5 years where I served as CEO.  For the most part, my experiences have always been extremely positive.  I’m a believer in the saying “You Get What You Give”.  More about this in a minute.

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the spare time I had was rather limited and it had been several years since I had been a member in a virtual airline.  However, being stuck at home and especially after being laid off in July, I found I had more time and I began seeking out a new VA to call home.  For most, the choice of VA will most likely be an airline in their home country and one they prefer over another.  Growing up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and beginning my IT career there as well, I always preferred to fly American whenever possible.  So I’ve always gravitated towards an American Airlines based VA whenever possible.    But unfortunately, not all VA’s (even those simulating AAL) are created equal. 

A few weeks ago I found myself somewhat bored with the American VA I belonged to.  While I was keeping myself busy flying (almost daily) and I was serving in a management capacity, I just wasn’t happy with the direction things were going.  While I’m not going to mention the name of this VA, I’ll just say that I’ve had a long history with them and in all honesty not much has changed or progressed with their systems in more than 10 years.  Don’t get me wrong, they are a fine VA with wonderful and dedicated individuals.  But I just wasn’t happy and felt I needed to make a change. 

In the VATSIM Facebook group I saw a posting from another American Airlines VA which caught my attention.  I clicked the link and had a look over their website.  After reading as much as I could from their About, FAQ and News pages and reading even more comments others have posted on Facebook, I decided American Virtual was going to become my new home.  I completed the application process and was absolutely stunned when I received my acceptance and welcome email within 10 minutes of applying.  In the past I’ve waited 24 – 48 hours or sometimes longer to be accepted into a VA.  Being hired/accepted in the short period of time I experienced after signing up with American Virtual showed me these guys are a serious VA.  Of course it needs to be said, VA’s are operated by real-life humans and the expectation of being hired within 10 minutes will not always be possible.  However, any properly managed virtual airline should be able to review, process and hire certainly within 24-48 hours.  But I digress….

I downloaded the ACARs program and setup my first flight from DFW to DEN in the PMDG Boeing 737-800.  During the flight I joined the American Virtual Discord and found it to be an active and lively group.  By the time I completed the return flight to DFW I had decided I made the right decision.  The very next day I contacted the CEO and inquired about an open hub manager position at DFW.  While I was new to the VA, I wanted to offer my experience and willingness to serve in a management capacity and was promoted to the role of hub manager over the DFW hub. 

While I realize this has quickly become a lengthy post, I will wrap things up very shortly.  I promise!  While most VA’s operate in a similar fashion by allowing pilots to accrue hours, offer group flights and an online community via forum, Discord etc.  American Virtual takes all this many, many steps forward. 

In a recent video message from the American Virtual CEO, Sean Jackson, he describes the VA as being “more than just a virtual airline, but literally a technology company that provides virtual airline services.” During his six minute address, he highlights many of the features which makes American Virtual stand out as a leader in the flight simulation community.  A few features he discusses are as follows:

Flightaware Schedules

At American Virtual we strive to mirror the real world American Airlines flight operations in as realistic manner as possible.  American Virtual uses flight data from Flightaware to inject real world flight data in the scheduling system for both American Airlines and also its direct subsidiaries.   

Enhanced Flight Air Map

American Virtual uses a feature rich graphical tracking mod which provides a street level view of your aircraft in flight.  This is very similar functionality to what you might see with real world traffic on FlightRadar24.

Premium Miles

Earn miles towards purchase of real items or unlock special privileges on the site.

Perks Program

Earn discounts towards amusement parks, movies, sporting events, restaurants and more.

Odyssey Magazine

A quarterly full-color virtual magazine similar to American Way (AA’s inflight magazine). 

Discord Community

An active community on Discord where virtual friendships are forming on a daily basis. 

Plus Much, Much More…

American Virtual is hiring and if all this sounds interesting to you, you should join today!  But before I let you go, near the top of this lengthy article, I mentioned a saying or motto which has always been important to me.  “You Get What You Give”.  I’ve applied this in all aspects of my life, everything from my faith, my family, my education, my career and to my hobbies.  In the very short time I’ve been with American Virtual, I can tell you this is also an important motto from the CEO all the way throughout the management team.  There’s more to running a successful VA than just opening the doors.  The effort Sean and his management team, as well as each individual member is putting into this fine VA will only strengthen its core.  I’ve found my new home and I certainly hope you’ll join me

I hope to see you in the friendly skies at American Virtual.

Until next time….

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

The Wonderful World of Virtual Airlines

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.  

Misc

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. 

UK Virtual

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.  

In Summary

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…

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

Is the virtual airline concept dead in modern times?

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?

projectfly 1

A snapshot of my passport showing the nations of Australia, Austria and Belgium as visited.

projectfly 2

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.

projectfly 3

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….

Happy Flying!

Jerry

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

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