The Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM) is a world-wide network for virtual air traffic simulation. VATSIM is intended primarily for simulating commercial and recreational air traffic (as opposed to military/wargame simulation networks).
VATSIM users can both pilot (using a flight simulator, most commonly the current version of the Microsoft Flight Simulator) and provide air traffic control services (using a freeware simulated radar screen program provided by VATSIM).
While flying or providing control services, VATSIM users adhere as close as possible to real-life procedures including weather, airport closures and NOTAMs. Users interact using either text or voice, and their communications closely resemble those heard in real air traffic control. This has made VATSIM a valuable training aid to many student pilots, who lack experience at communication with real air traffic controllers. Real air traffic controllers also take advantage of VATSIM to practice controlling traffic without putting any lives at risk.
VATSIM is divided into several regions (such as Europe, North America, and Oceania), and the regions are further subdivided into country-specific divisions (for example VATRUS in Russia or VATUSA in the United States). Many controllers on VATSIM provide virtual air traffic control services for areas they live in. The most active areas are North America, Brazil, Europe, and Japan/South Korea.
In the mid 90s, both the evolution of internet and computers as well as the enhancements of MS Flight Simulator allowed pilots to fly with each other. In 1997 the first version of SquawkBox was created as an addon for FS95, also ProController, a stand alone program, was created in the same year. Pilots could connect to the SATCO network, a predecessor of VATSIM.
"The Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network, known as VATSIM.net or "VATSIM" was created in 2001 by a group of individuals who came together with a goal of creating an organization which truly served the needs of the flight simulation and online air traffic control community. With an eye towards more than just providing a network of computers for users to log into, VATSIM is an online community where people can learn and, at the same time, enjoy the pastimes of flight simulation and air traffic control simulation all while making new friends from all over the world" .
Membership and Training
Membership and participation is completely free of charge. VATSIM has over 119,000 registered users, and the member count is continuously growing. Anyone interested in aviation and flight simulator is welcome to join and fly on the network immediately. However, in order to become an air traffic controller on VATSIM, one must go through a comprehensive training program, which is usually provided by regional VATSIM divisions and individual FIRs, and pass a series of written exams. A ranking system for controllers ensures that newcomers will not take demanding positions that they are not ready for yet.
Recently, VATSIM has begun a similar, optional training program for new pilots. Depending on the workload, air traffic controllers are expected to provide limited assistance to new pilots as well. Newcomers are recommended to start out in less active areas, away from larger airports, and gradually build up their ATC communication skills. Some virtual airlines provide their own training programs for member pilots interested in flying online.
VATSIM competes with other networks for pilots and staff, the largest of which is IVAO. Since May 2005 one of VATSIM divisions has a policy for IVAO air traffic controllers transferring to the VATSIM network.
To connect to the VATSIM network, either as a pilot or a controller, one must use approved software listed on the VATSIM home page. According to existing VATSIM policies, use of software not currently certified for use on the network may result in immediate disconnection or temporary or permanent member ban. Network connectivity is provided by designated proprietary VATSIM servers located throughout the world. All servers share data between each other so that users can see everyone else on the network at the same time, no matter which particular server they connect to.
VATSIM member pilots connect to the network using add-on client applications, such as SquawkBox or FSInn, which usually integrate into the flight simulator software. All currently released clients are free of charge but closed source.
ASRC was released to the public in early 2003 following a series of beta tests. ASRC supersedes ProController, an older radar screen simulator with a limited set of features. ProController has officially been declared obsolete and VATSIM servers deny connections from ProController clients.
On April 14, 2006, VATSIM announced the public release of another radar client, VRC (Virtual Radar Client), which is now an alternative to ASRC for controllers on the VATSIM network. According to the official website, the focus of the VRC project is to support multiple monitor configurations.
Currently, ASRC support Microsoft Windows 98 or above and VRC supports Windows 2000 and above. Ports to Linux, Macintosh or other operating systems or platforms are not intended, although some users report limited success in running ASRC and VRC on other operating systems using Windows compatibility layers such as Wine and Cedega.
Special Events (Fly-ins)
VATSIM frequently hosts events such as virtual fly-ins, which attract a large number of controllers and pilots. These fly-ins are usually centered around a certain airport, city or region, which leads to a high density of virtual flights and ATC coverage in the area, resembling real-life flight operations by size. Some events are held only once, while others are recurring annually or otherwise.
Pilot Usage Overview
VATSIM aims to mirror real-world flight procedures and policies as closely as possible within the technical limitations of flight simulation software. A typical sequence of steps performed by a virtual "pilot" connecting to and flying an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight on VATSIM is as follows:
- Plan out flight details, such as departure and destination airports, flight plan, aircraft type, etc., and obtain airport and enroute charts, if needed.
- Load the flight simulator and position the aircraft at a gate or general aviation parking of a departure airport.
- Connect to one of VATSIM servers using client software, and specify a callsign and aircraft type.
- File a flight plan, similar to a real life flight plan, using the client.
- Tune the onboard radio to the appropriate air traffic controller (usually tower or clearance delivery), and request IFR flight clearance.
- Receive and read back clearance information (including flight plan amendments and the squawk code).
- Tune the radio to ground control and request taxi to an active runway.
- Tune the radio to tower to request take off.
- Once in the air, tune to the departure frequency, then center, depending on the route.
- At the destination, the process is then reversed, where the pilot calls approach, then tower for landing and ground control for taxiing to a gate or parking.
(Certain frequencies are skipped depending on the airport and which air traffic controllers are online at the time.)
The flight plan, procedures and communication with air traffic controllers is very similar to real-world aviation including airplane separation, procedure turns, departure and arrival charts, takeoff and landing clearance, and noise restrictions.
- In imaginary skies, would-be controllers guide pretend pilots by Peter Sanders, The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2006, retrieved July 11, 2006.
- VATSIM - Official website. Includes links to region- and division-specific web sites.
- VATSIM Pilot Resource Center - Information and training for new pilot members.