Virtual airlines are just like their real-world counterparts, except they are online and use pilots who use flight simulators! They usually reflect the same routes, flights, aircraft and other attributes of their real-life counterpart.
Flying for one of these could really bring your flight simulation experience to life and add another dimension of fun or realism to your flights. You're not just flying for fun; your flying hours and experience will be added to your roster. You can also be given specific routes and flights to complete and build up your earnings for your VA.
With each VA having its own rules, regulations, and styles it’s something that can really be for everyone if you’re willing to take some time to look through the huge amounts out there.
Some are tiny with just a few members throughout, while some feature a massive number of virtual pilots that take part over the whole world!
This article is probably the most complete resource on the Internet outlining and explaining virtual airlines in their entirety and of course, is quite a long read so we have provided jump links below for ease of browsing;
- What are Virtual Airlines?
- How to Join and Fly for a Virtual Airline
- How to Create Your Own Virtual Airline
- List of the Best Virtual Airlines for 2019
One of the most pivotal additions to the world of simulation was the inclusion of flight simulation. They’ve been around for close to two decades now on a mainstream level, and have become a pretty big part of the simulation community because they offer such a unique take into flying.
No video game touches the realism of flying an aircraft with the same precision, so it makes sense that flight simulators have become massive for those who want to get a bit more flight experience under their belt.
However, just as people take to playing many video games online in large groups or clans, people have formed what is known as “Virtual Airlines”.
Driven entirely by their member groups, these online organizations allow users to heighten their experience drastically and are aimed to give a close depiction of what being part of an airline is actually like through the manner of a virtual environment.
It’s part role-play and part simulation, allowing the user to really take their experience to a new level and witness something that adds another layer of realism to the whole experience.
What Are Virtual Airlines?
Virtual airlines have been popular for a very long time, going back to the early versions of flight simulator and the use of the Internet for the general population. They give a sense of achievement and purpose while flying.
You are able to complete flights that are assigned to you by the airline you are signed up with and build up your profile and roster. You can also interact with fellow virtual aviators and pilots of your airline, which gives a sense of community and by joining a VA is like becoming a member of a "club", so to speak.
For many people, this is exactly what they need to help improve their own flight experience and quality. Whether it’s a genuine pilot or just a flight enthusiast, this extra step into taking your flight simulation more seriously can be the perfect solution to becoming a better pilot.
Image shows a screen capture from the Delta Virtual website.
The various different ranking structures, performance indicators and even personalities between members mean that you can spend weeks just trying out for different VA's until you find that you feel comfortable around.
Some even look for you to have a high level of training before they’ll let you in – this isn’t just for people who want to mess around, it’s for those who want to see how they deal with the added pressure in the simulation environment.
This different variety gives it a much stronger feeling than other clan systems in video games as it lets you really be around passionate individuals who all want to take it seriously and actually hit targets, and become better virtual pilots along the way.
If you want to make your flight simulation more enjoyable for the long-term, you should really consider looking into joining a VA at one stage. It’s the next step that takes you a little bit closer to the real thing, as you’ll be expected to perform at a consistent level all the time.
How to Join and Fly For a Virtual Airline
Cruising at 30,000 feet, you look out the window of the cockpit to see the sun slowly rising as it gradually lets go of the horizon. You feel exhausted but happy. As a senior pilot for British Airways, you’ve just completed a long tour of the Far East with stops in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Now you are finally heading home.
Just a dream? Similar scenarios happen every day as hundreds of pilots tour the world working for virtual airlines. Any pilot can become a senior Captain on a global airline, all on their computer.
A virtual airline is similar to a real one except all activity takes place on computers around the world using flight simulation software. Experts estimate there are tens of thousands of hobbyist "virtual pilots" involved with hundreds of virtual airlines.
The airlines evolved as a natural extension of the popularity of flight simulation software like Microsoft Flight Simulator. After mastering their own solo flights, pilots were looking for more interaction and involvement.
As computer technology grew more powerful, virtual airlines expanded their operations and capabilities. Virtual airlines give users a more immersive experience. Pilots can experience flying for an airline they otherwise may not be able to qualify for in real life. Other users are limited by physical or financial constraints. The virtual environment removes those challenges.
Research studies have indicated that participants feel a strong bond to their airlines, much the same as those in real life. Several university projects have used virtual airlines to take a closer look at diverse subjects such as aviation, statistical theory, and modeling.
Virtual airlines are a subset of the larger phenomenon of online gaming. The original airlines came on the scene in the early 1990s in the forums on CompuServe, Prodigy and other online services.
The airlines tended to be more organized and structured than other early forms of online simulation games. Some observers even believe that the first virtual airlines were developed when flight simulators came on the market, well before the internet rose to prominence in the mid to late 1990s.
Around 2000, the airlines experienced a growth spurt. This rise in popularity paralleled the growth of online gaming in general. Multi-player online games in fantasy, combat and adventure simulations were growing rapidly. Faster computers, more capable broadband and DSL connections and better graphics all contributed to the rapid expansion.
Virtual airlines have often been early adopters of advanced Internet and computer technology. For example, the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network and the International Virtual Aviation Organization are two of the largest virtual airline multiplayer networks. As stand-alone flight simulation software titles developed, the multiplayer networks did as well.
There are two types of virtual airlines. The first approach is to create an airline that has no ties to a real-world counterpart. The name, brand, and logo are all created from scratch. This style is the most common. It provides users with the most flexibility and variety in aircraft selection, route designation and operational structure.
Livewire Airlines, a popular VA that is not based around a real-world counterpart.
The second option is to create a virtual airline that mimics a real-world airline. They try to replicate the types of aircraft used, hubs and routes offered, and branding of their namesake. While there have been copyright disputes in the past, most real airlines have allowed their virtual counterpart to flourish.
A less common variety of virtual airline is a military airline. Instead of commercial aircraft, they use military aircraft and organizational hierarchy. Some focus on one area such as naval aviation. Another, less formal style of a virtual airline is a virtual flying club. Like a real-world flying club, there is an emphasis on social interaction as flying.
While original virtual airlines were limited by the technology of bulletin board services (BBS) on which they originated, modern airlines enjoy incredible graphics and high-speed Internet connections. With the proliferation of virtual airlines, pilots can choose from among several networks such as Virtual Skies, VATSIM or IVAO. A network is the software and technology underneath the airline that makes it run.
The experience is truly immersive; pilots can see other planes, respond to air traffic control, and see weather conditions at a glance. Some airlines are so advanced they pay their pilots a virtual salary. They also determine operating costs, estimate profit and loss and use similar financial controls of a real airline.
A major advantage of virtual airlines is they provide a social hub for pilots to interact. Solitary flying on standalone computer lacks interpersonal communication. Virtual airlines offer multiplayer flying, Internet forums, articles, blog posts and other ways each pilot can meet and establish relationships with other hobbyists.
Ranking and Awards
While virtual airline membership is generally free, some airlines are very selective about choosing their pilot staff. Applicants may need to pass knowledge tests before they are accepted.
Many virtual airlines have a complete ranking system that determines which pilot is approved to fly on which route. As pilots complete each flight, they file a report which indicates the number of hours flown. Their ranking increase as they gain experience and flight time.
Senior pilots can achieve higher status such as Captain. In addition to higher ranking, members can get awards and certificates. They may complete specified routes or accumulate hours in a specific type of airplane. All rankings and accomplishments are posted for others to observe.
Hub and Spoke
As virtual airlines grow, coordinating routes and operations can become cumbersome. Some airlines will choose to diversify into smaller units called hubs. Often hubs use a group of pilots that operate out of the same location, beginning and ending flights from that hub. Virtual hubs try to replicate actual airline hubs as much as possible.
Aircraft branding and imagery is important in providing a consistent experience for users. However, custom delivery paints are often provided to give pilots a sense of pride and excitement. These customized liveries are posted on the virtual airline site or can be downloaded from popular flight simulation websites.
Virtual airline users can speak with other players using Voice Over Internet Protocol. They can also text each other using Skype, MSN messenger, and similar services.
Modern virtual airlines use automatic processes to track flight statistics. In the past, all of the data had to be reported manually. Now automated systems like the ACARS systems track flights in real-time and report statistics automatically at the end of the operation.
Every virtual airline is looking for enthusiastic members. Applicants will need flight simulation software in order to join the airline. Common flight simulation software titles include:
- Microsoft Flight Simulator
- GEFS Online
There are hundreds of virtual airlines to choose from. A quick Internet search will provide a quick overview. You can jump to our recommended list for 2019 here.
Airlines For Newbies
Big virtual airlines can intimidate new users. On the Airliners.net forum, someone asked for virtual airlines where a newbie can get their feet wet. A user with the handle NC1844V commented, “…I'd suggest this airline, which is very modern, but easy to get along with:
This Airline has a training program that you can start flying short hops in a Cessna and then work your way up to a small turbo prop, and so on. They have a route system and you're only able to fly routes in the system as well as aircraft that you are qualified on. They have a lot of cool tools you can download, to make the experience more realistic. They have a very active forum and are very welcoming to new pilots.
Evaluating an Airline
When evaluating an airline, there are two important things to determine:
- Which airports are used?
- What type of aircraft is in the fleet?
Users will want to make sure that a virtual airline uses airports they want to use on a regular basis. Similarly, check which aircraft the virtual airline uses. Since these are the aircraft regularly flown, it is important to make sure a prospective pilot wants to fly those planes. Each of these items can be found on the virtual airline's website. Look for links such as "Where We Fly" and "Fleet." Most sites have specific pages outlining the routes and aircraft utilized.
Since one of the benefits of virtual airlines is their social aspect, make sure to check out the forums on the airline website:
- Is there plenty of activity?
- Are people involved in posting regularly?
- Do the participants help each other or squabble about mundane things?
Since a prospective pilot will spend a lot of time with the airline, it is beneficial to make sure the other players are people they want to spend time with.
Follow all application directions completely and fill in each form accurately. Some applications may seem excessively detailed for a make-believe airline. Keep in mind that the owners and operators probably put in tens of thousands of volunteer hours to grow the airline and make it stable and efficient. They want to make sure everyone that gets involved is qualified and willing to participate on a regular basis.
Most major virtual airlines have a pilot ranking system. Pilot aircraft certifications are limited based on their ranking. As they gain flight hours and experience they are allowed to take on more complex aircraft. First time pilots should choose their favorite flight among the routes offered.
Some airlines will track their statistics automatically using ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System). Others will utilize a manual reporting system. Often an airline requires a minimum number of flights to maintain active membership.
New members should take the time to introduce themselves to the website forum. The forum is where much of the inside information about the airline's development, structure and growth is shared. Also, new users will get lots of tips and techniques to help make their first flights are smooth and successful.
A virtual airline needs considerable volunteer contributions to make it run smoothly. Once a new member is familiar with the airline operation, they should consider volunteering to help where they can. If they cannot contribute actual volunteer time, financial contributions are always welcome to help defray bandwidth and other expenses.
Virtual airlines are a great way for flight simulation hobbyists to take their love of flying to the next level. They provide an immersive experience that can help pilots expand their skills and build their confidence.
However, don't forget that the whole point is to have more fun. As one Assistant Chief Pilot said about DeltaVA,
I am 38 years old and currently not real happy with my current job. Instead of being miserable every day, I am taking matters into my own hands and going back to school to be a programmer/analyst. I love this virtual airline and it is my vice to get me out of my hectic life.
In other words, it's great to rise up in the pilot rankings and take on bigger titles and more responsibility. Just remember to enjoy each takeoff and landing on the way. Once Senior Captain or Instructor status is achieved, many pilots find that teaching others the ropes is as enjoyable as flying itself. The shared love of flying and flight simulation is the common bond that makes a great virtual airline community.
How to Create Your Own Virtual Airline
You and your staff thunder through the terminal on the way to a major conference meeting where you are scheduled to address the entire company. Two assistants hurriedly hand you important papers to sign. Another assistant tries her best to brush lint off your suit as you round the corner to the conference room.
The doors swing open wide as you stroll up to the microphone. The noisy room descends to a hush. YOU are the owner of the airline and are about to make a major announcement.
Once you’ve flown your own plane to cities and countries around the world several times, you may be ready for new adventures. You should consider starting your own virtual airline!
In this article, we are going to take a closer look at what you need to set it up and make it operational.
Choosing the Simulator
One of your first decisions will be deciding which flight simulation platform to use. There are several major flight simulator titles you can choose from for your virtual airline. The most popular is Microsoft Flight simulator although some virtual airlines use X-Plane, FlightGear, YSFlight, and Fly!
Some virtual airlines let participants use whatever flight simulation program they have on their home system. For example, Patriot Virtual Airways lets pilots use Flight Simulator 2004, Flight Simulator X, or X-Plane.
Real world or Fictional
Once you've chosen the flight simulator, you need to determine if your airline will be a real-world copy of an existing airline or completely fictional. Real-world simulations are more common. This gives your airline a solid foundation to work from as you emulate the exact activities, customs, and scheduling of the actual airline. On the other hand, a fictional airline provides a tremendous amount of freedom in terms of labeling, logos, branding, route scheduling, and technological innovation.
Airline logos - what one will you choose?
One thing to consider is that many of the existing large and even regional carriers already have online virtual counterparts. If you are particularly attached to an airline or aviation company, you should consider getting involved with that particular within the existing virtual airline.
Building the Site
Once you've determined the platform, you need to build a site for your airline's operations. You could use a strict HTML site, a solo forum site, or a combination. Advancements in virtual airline website technology have increased dramatically in recent years--there are now dedicated platforms that you can utilize for your virtual airline. Examples include networks like VATSIM, the Virtual Aviation Experience, Virtual Skies, or IVAO.
Powerful databases have become a central feature of many of the big virtual airlines. For example, SimMiles.com allows airlines using their platform to keep track of a wide variety of statistics including:
- Total hours flew
- Total flight revenue
- Average pilot salary
- The average revenue per flight
- Scheduled flights
- Passengers carried
- Revenue per passenger power flown
- Fleet size
- Operating costs
- Total operating profit
- And much more.
This depth of detail makes working on your airline so much more fun. Pilots and staff can see their stats in an instant. It makes a virtual airline so much better than operating a single aircraft all of the time.
For your first go as an airline mogul, you may not want to take on the expense of some of the pricier virtual airline networks. phpVMS is a cost-effective alternative. phpVMS started operations in 2008 before most of the big airline systems were available. Over the last 5 years, it has grown to become one of the most popular VA tools on the web.
phpVMS supports a wide variety of ACARS applications including FS Flight Keeper, FS Passengers, FSACARS, XAcars, and kACARS. The website at https://phpvms.net/ features complete documentation, online tutorials, and an active user forum.
Airline Operating Region
Your next decision will be deciding where your airline will be located and what region it will operate in. This is an important decision because the area of the country you decide to operate in will dictate the kind of airlines and airplanes that you should consider.
For example, if you have a small regional airline consisting of mostly commuter flights, your airplanes will be different than if your airline services a larger region. In that case, your aircraft will typically be larger and can handle more fuel at a bigger payload.
Your aircraft is your next selection. As mentioned, your aircraft will be an extension of the kind of airline and the area that you determine that your airline will service. If you determine that you want to fly 737s or 747s, your theater of operations will be much larger and you'll be operating out of airports that can handle larger aircraft.
Some virtual airline owners decide to keep things small and operate a small outfit with more affordable aircraft. Examples of this kind of company are small regional carriers, commuter airlines, and small commercial outfitters.
Qatar A350 in FSX while flying for a VA.
Staffing and Training
Pilot staffing and training are very important. You want to be enthusiastic and encourage participation and growth. At the same time, you want to have objective criteria on which you will allow a pilot to join your airline.
You should have written general employment information. For example, America Western Virtual Airlines states that, in accordance with federal law, applicants must be at least 13 years of age. In addition, they must have a valid VATSIM id.
Applicants must have a valid e-mail address (not yahoo.com or hotmail.com). Applicants must not have any disciplinary action against them from VATSIM. Upon acceptance into American West Virtual Airlines, pilots must submit their first pilot report within 14 days.
You should have similar clear and specific details for each staff position. Positions you’ll want to fill may include:
- Chief Executive Officer- establishes procedures, plan budgets, promote staff, and make sure the operation runs smoothly.
- Vice CEO-assists the CEO and steps into their position in case the CEO is absent.
- Information technology manager- responsible for managing and maintaining the databases and information systems that allow the airline to run smoothly.
- Airline operations manager- directly interacts with pilots and informs them of any changes in procedures. Compiles direct reports and creates statistics and analysis for the CEO and management staff.
- Pilot training officer- responsible for maintaining all of the training materials, setting up training sessions, administering and monitoring the progress of pilots in training sessions, setting the educational requirements and making sure the pilot staff meets their training obligations.
- Pilots- in addition to the general employment requirements, often airlines have a minimum flying requirement for pilots. Virtual Northwest Airline’s policy manual, for example, states, “Candidates with less than 100 verifiable flight hours will be placed in the Virtual Northwest Pilots Airlines Academy. Candidates with more than 100 verifiable flight hours will move directly to a hub to begin flights with Virtual Northwest Airlines.”
A good way to get the word out about your need for pilots and staff is to frequent forums dedicated to virtual airlines. A good example is the active Virtual Airlines forum right here at Fly Away Simulation. You’ll find pilots looking for new homes and many people that can fill staff and management positions.
Growth and Expansion
There are many competing virtual airlines. As you grow and expand, you must keep enthusiasm high so that pilots continue to participate. Sometimes virtual airline managers forget that it is a hobby—they might begin to act like bosses in the real world!
Remember that the emphasis should be on fun, camaraderie and the love of aircraft and aviation! Without these ingredients, you will suffer defections. Eventually, you will not be able to maintain the bandwidth costs and will have to shut down.
Try to emulate the style of established airlines. There are several that have been in operation for many years. You will benefit by modeling their good practices. With a little luck, some perseverance, and a commitment to creating the best virtual airline possible, you'll grow and expand to become a virtual airline powerhouse.
Our List of the Best VA's for 2019
Below is our bullet-pointed list are some airlines we have selected to be featured on this page. You may click on each one to view more information about them and choose whether to sign-up with them or not.
The Virtual Airline List we have here keeps an updated list of “top” virtual airlines. However, the list changes rapidly. Industry veterans advise testing several airlines to see which one fits the best.
Since 1999, British Airways Virtual has created innovations that helped set new standards in virtual airlines. Based on the real world British Airways, BAV users fly with versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator including Flight Simulator 2004 and FSX. Features include a fully automated reporting system, experience point rewards, and a new booking system. The fleet consists of aircraft currently in service with the real world counterpart.
- Globe Cargo
Globe Cargo Virtual Airlines is a very popular airline with over 180 pilots who have achieved First Officer or Captain status. The airline has a flight bidding system, unique charter flights, emergency training similar to real-world procedures, and a highly involved management team. Globe Cargo is based on Flight Simulator 9 or FSX platforms.
- Delta Virtual Airlines
DeltaVA pilots fly routes mirroring the real world Delta Airlines. Based on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002, 2004 or Flight Simulator X, it is not affiliated or endorsed by Delta. DeltaVA has been in operation since 2003. In that time they have had over 10 million visits and served billions of bytes of data. Online events include flights to new airports, trial runs, and crossfires. Delta Fly! is the popular airline newsletter.
- Phoenix Virtual Airways
Phoenix is one of the largest virtual airline systems. It is actually a hub of over 300 different airlines with service to over 3600 destinations. The team behind Phoenix includes industry experts and a deep roster of committed pilots. Features include pilot ratings, online flying, monthly competitions, specific missions, awards, training, and special events.
- Austrian Virtual
Founded in 1998, Austrian Virtual operates with the permission of real-world Austrian Airlines. Originally using a Yahoo group to communicate with each other, they moved to a dedicated website and forum in 2003. New pilots start as a “Trainee,” and can fly either a Dash or Fokker. As they gain experience and credit, they advance to Second Officer, First Officer, Senior First Officer, Captain, Senior Captain, and Instructor.
- American Flight Airways
- Platinum Airways
Platinum Airways offers its VP's an environment that is rich in content and low on rules. We have numerous civilian aircraft in our own livery for FS9 and FSX. Our pilots are completely free to compose their own flights between two ICAO airports and/or they can operate out of five hubs (KEWR and KDFW in the US, CYVR in Canada, YPPH in Australia and EBBR in Europe). Thus, Platinum Airways prides itself that it has completely liberated the virtual aviation industry by implementing a real Open Skies policy.
- United Virtual Airlines
- Canadian Xpress
- European United Airlines
- Virtual Norwegian
- Scoot Virtual
- Luxury Airways
- Canada Air Virtual
- Delta Virtual Airlines
If you own a virtual airline and would like to have it featured on this list, please contact the Fly Away Simulation support team by opening a ticket here. You will need to provide a few paragraphs outlining your VA and some images for the article page we will create for you.
Promotional video example
Below is a promotional video from Transavia Virtual Airlines. Transavia does not have a website of their own, however, they are part of the Dutch Virtual Airline Group.
Hearing your comments
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Let us know what Virtual Airline you fly for, how often you fly and whether you enjoy it or not! Feel free to also post reviews of any of the VA's out there.