Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network
|Purpose||Provide an online air traffic control and flying community for aviation enthusiasts|
|>700,000 (120,000 active in the last 6 months)|
|Tim Barber |
|Board of Governors|
Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM) is a nonprofit organization that operates an online flight-simulation network noted for its active membership and realism. Members can fly either as pilots or direct traffic as air traffic controllers, participating in what has been described as a close approximation of real-life aviation procedures.
VATSIM provides a flight-simulation network that allows users to either fly online as pilots or direct traffic as air traffic controllers, producing an organic simulation of air traffic. Communications between pilots and controllers are carried out using integrated VoIP or in-game text messages. Users require custom software to join the simulation.
The main organs of the network consist of the Board of Governors, three of whom are responsible for one of the three geographic regions—namely, the Europe, the Middle East and Africa region, the Asia-Pacific region, and the Americas region, referred to as VATEMEA, VATPAC and VATSIM Americas respectively. These regions are further subdivided into divisions, some of which further divide into virtual area control centers, and virtual air route traffic control centers. Operating procedures within each area reflect local standards.
The network also has a volunteer team of supervisors that help those who may need assistance in flying on the network and also help resolve reports of other fellow users breaking the VATSIM Code of Conduct. Upon registering for the VATSIM network, new users have to undertake an entry-level test about basic piloting skills and about the rules of the network. This was introduced on September 1, 2020, alongside a further restructuring of the pilot rating system to teach VATSIM users how to properly use the network and reduce the number of cases of pilots connecting without knowing what to do in busy airspace, causing disruption and frustration for some controllers.
Because the simulation adheres as closely as possible to real-life aviation procedures and radio phraseology, VATSIM can function as a training aid for student pilots lacking experience and private and commercial pilots looking to enhance their skills in radio communications. Events in the simulation are not hard coded on the network but rather emerge through human interaction and error. Consequently, the network has been described as bringing immersion to what was historically a solitary exercise and credited with playing a key role in the commodification of flight-simulation software.
Formation of VATSIM
Spearheaded by Harvey Stein, the founding of VATSIM was announced on July 12, 2001, following the dissolution of the Simulated Air Traffic Controllers Organization (SATCO). This occurred after the founding of another network, IVAO, which was more European-oriented, unlike SATCO, which was more American-oriented. The board drew up terms of agreement with Randy Whistler, the then President of SATCO, declaring VATSIM the official successor of SATCO.
SquawkBox and ProController
The advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s enabled users of modern flight simulators to fly together using multiplayer functionality. In 1997, SquawkBox was created by Jason Grooms as an add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator 95, enhancing the built-in multiplayer features to allow large numbers of players to connect to the game. ProController, a radar-simulation program also developed by Jason Grooms, was created in the same year to connect virtual pilots with virtual controllers. The FSD Server was created by Marty Bochane to provide the signaling infrastructure and logic required to integrate ProController and Squawkbox, enabling users to fly in real-world weather conditions. ProController was retired as an approved ATC client on March 13, 2004.
The SquawkBox pilot client was retired for use on the network on April 1 2021, due to its not being in active development, which made it incompatible with fast position updates that are brought with VATSIM Velocity.
ASRC and Roger Wilco
Sometime in 2002, ProController was slowly being phased out in favour of ASRC (Advanced Simulated Radar Client), created by Mike Evans and David Hendleman, and was released to the public in early 2003. Alongside that, Roger Wilco (software) was used to facilitate voice communications between pilots and ATC, with ATC denoting that voice communications were available with them with the callsign format
XXXX_V_TWR, alongside putting their voice server IP and voice room name in their ATIS. Later, however, Roger Wilco was phased out in favour of the Advanced Voice Client, which required VATSIM authentication to prevent any non-VATSIM members from logging into the voice servers.
The ASRC software was retired as an ATC client on April 1 2021, due to its not being in active development, which will make it incompatible with fast position updates that will be brought with VATSIM Velocity.
On March 27, 2005, an alternative add-on to FS2002/FS2004 and FSX called FSInn was approved for use on the VATSIM network alongside SquawkBox.
The FSInn pilot client will be retired on April 1 2021, due to it not being in active development, which made it incompatible with fast position updates that will be brought with VATSIM Velocity.
VRC and EuroScope
On April 17, 2006, the VRC ATC client was approved for use on the VATSIM network. Created by Ross Carlson, as of May 2020, the VRC client is still in use today - mainly in the American and Oceanic regions, due to its easy setup, but comes with a lack of customisability.
On September 15, 2007, the EuroScope ATC client was approved for use on the VATSIM network. Created by Gergely Csernak, the client is reported to be the most used ATC client on VATSIM, due to its custom plugin support, realistic radar screens, and automatic controller coordination. It is designed to integrate with other ATC clients like VRC, vSTARS, and vERAM, however. It is generally used mostly in the Europe and Asia regions.
On January 14, 2012, the vSTARS ATC client was approved for use on the VATSIM network. Also created by Ross Carlson, the client aims to replicate the real-world STARS system used in many US TRACON facilities.
On February 27, 2016, the vERAM ATC client was approved for use on the VATSIM network. Also created by Ross Carlson, the client aims to replicate the real-world ERAM system used in many US ARTCC facilities.
On July 18, 2020, the vatSys ATC client was approved for use on the VATSIM network. Created by Jake Saw, the client aimed to replicate the real-word TAAATS system used in Australia, but is now modelled off the Eurocat/TopSky systems. It features an advanced profiling system which "means that the look and feel of the client can be adjusted with a simple few clicks".
Audio for VATSIM
From its inception, VATSIM employed a system consisting of voice 'rooms', in which, by using custom-written TeamSpeak 2 servers as a backbone, each virtual 'frequency' functioned similarly to a VoIP conference call, and a controller needed to 'open' each room in order for voice communications to be possible on the corresponding frequency.
In October 2019, VATSIM had finished a complete overhaul of its voice system and called it Audio for VATSIM, a key feature of which is simulation of the entire VHF radio range, thus eliminating the need for voice rooms. The system realistically simulates signal degradation, audio quality, transceiver operation, frequency cross-coupling, and altitude effects.
On July 23, 2020, VATSIM, alongside announcing a complete overhaul of their branding, announced that they had entered into a partnership with Microsoft, to ensure that Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 would be compatible with VATSIM upon launch.
On March 13, 2021, VATSIM announced a closed-beta initiative to test low latency position updates on the network, named VATSIM Velocity. With this update, position updates will be increased from 0.2Hz (5 seconds) by a factor of 5 to 5Hz (0.2 seconds) within a 10-mile range.
Considered the largest online flight simulation network in the world, VATSIM has attracted mainstream media attention. Commentators have praised VATSIM for its realism and quality, describing the network as giving flight simulation an interest and depth it would otherwise lack and lauding its friendly atmosphere.
Coverage, although mostly positive, has focused on what is perceived to be the peculiar nature of a hobby so complex that it can closely approximate work and cost thousands of dollars. The experience has been described as more strict, for both air traffic controllers and pilots, than some participants might like.
Membership and training
VATSIM has over seven hundred thousand registered members, of whom more than a hundred thousand were considered active as of September 2020. Membership is free, and there are no usage fees associated with connecting to the network.
Pilots must successfully complete a new member orientation program, including a simple exam that helps reinforce the material about basic piloting skills and the rules of the network as of September 1, 2020. They may also undertake optional training to learn how to fly certain procedures on the network. The current pilot ratings are:
- P0 - Basic VATSIM Member (awarded after completion of the New Member Orientation Program)
- P1 - Private Pilot License (PPL)
- P2 - Instrument Rating (IR)
- P3 - Commercial Multi-Engine Licence (CMEL)
- P4 - Airline Transport License (ATPL)
Pilots are able to file their own flight plans either through their flight plan dialog in their pilot client or "pre-filing" by using the myVATSIM ICAO flight planning form, also used by flight planning sites and flight tracking tools such as projectFLY, SimBrief, SimToolkitPro, and Volanta.
Air Traffic Controllers are required to undertake mandatory training before they are permitted to direct traffic. The Global Ratings Policy defines the requirements for each ATC rating, preceding local division restrictions. The ratings are as follows:
- S1 - Tower Trainee - no particular competencies, can only control up to Tower (TWR) level as per division restrictions
- S2 - Tower Controller - validated to control Delivery (DEL), Ground (GND) and Tower (TWR) facilities except procedural tower (subject to training)
- S3 - TMA Controller - validated to control all facilities up to Approach (APP/DEP) level
- C1 - Enroute Controller - validated to control all available facilities, including Center (CTR)
- C3 - Senior Controller - a special rating awarded to members at the discretion of their local region/division for seniority/recognition
The network creates and sponsors regular events to encourage interaction between pilots and controllers, during which traffic can approximate real-life levels.
Worldflight Australia is an annual virtual round-the-world charity event that has been run continuously since 2001, where 11 teams from different countries in their own fixed-base aircraft simulators fly to over 40 destinations around the world on VATSIM to raise money for the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service. VATSIM air traffic controllers provide service throughout this event. In 2006, fifteen enthusiasts conducted a 130-hour flight in a full-sized Boeing 747-400 simulator, for which Qantas Airways provided food.
Cross the Pond
Cross the Pond is a biannual event during which pilots complete transatlantic flights across "The Pond" between Europe and Northern America. The event alternates between westbound and eastbound every 6 months. Certain airports are selected a few months prior for which pilots can book slots to fly for, and VATSIM air traffic controllers provide full service for each of these airports throughout the event. The event is meticulously planned and coordinated by all major VATSIM staff members, to make sure that pilots enjoy their service. During the Spring 2020 event, VATSIM surpassed its record for most pilots connected to the network with 3,111.
In addition to the global/international events that VATSIM sponsors and advertises, regional events can be found daily throughout the network. These events can range from small in size, including only a few airports or facilities, to very large in size, spanning across multiple regions and facilities. Although they don't typically attract record-breaking traffic, these events have been known to draw enough pilots to simulate (and even surpass) real-world operations at the selected facilities.
- Virtual airline
- Flight simulator
- Massively multiplayer online game
- Air Traffic Control
- International Virtual Aviation Organisation
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VATSIM is the largest network, with more than 110,000 registered members
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Systems like VATSIM are apparently very strict experiences, however, with standards for training and currency that can be more intense and involved than some pilots want to undertake.
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It formed in 2001 when internal politics in a precursor network, SATCO, caused a rupture that resulted in two rival networks: VatSim ... and IVAO
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...is so realistic that some commercial airlines are starting to use it to train [their] pilots...
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- VATSIM (March 18, 2020). "Cross The Pond is closing in with lighting speed, and we are so excited! We are pleased to announce that booking for this year's biggest event will open March 21st at 1200z! As usual bookings open in bulks, details about specific airports below. https://ctp.vatsim.net/ pic.twitter.com/vElo4Xwa6o". @vatsim. Retrieved May 1, 2020. External link in
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- VATSIM (April 4, 2020). "The numbers are in! Thank you to everyone who have flown or controlled tonight, and a special thanks to all the wonderful people who have worked hard for months to host this amazing event! We are pleased to share our new connection record with you. Thank you for flying with us! pic.twitter.com/6G9LREXzIy". @vatsim. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
- Official website – Includes links to region and division-specific websites.
- SimAware – Official live flight tracking map & statistics for VATSIM traffic.
- VAT-Spy – A widely used flight tracking tool & statistic viewer for VATSIM. Data can be updated here.
- VATTASTIC – An unofficial flight tracking map for VATSIM traffic with statistics.
- vataware – Detailed statistics & live flight tracking for VATSIM traffic.
- Worldflight Group – Worldflight Group official website.