Southampton Airport is a medium-sized regional airport on the South Coast of England which has regular services to the channel islands and major UK cities. Last week, esteemed MSFS developers iniBuilds announced they were going to be producing a version of the airport for the simulator. A number of their staff are apparently local to the area, and so the decision to focus on this airport seems to be something of a passion project for the team. Is it any good? Let’s find out.
I’ve decided to structure this review a little differently to the ones which I’ve written in the past. Rather than focusing on each individual design aspect of the airport like ground textures, buildings, lighting et al, I’ve borrowed the approach that my colleague Spencer has used, and decided to take you on a tour of the airport, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each part of this latest iniBuilds product.
The Terminal (Exterior)
Southampton Airport being a regional airport only has a single small terminal with a dozen or so gates. I’m pleased to say that iniBuilds have captured the very essence of this building in their work. As a pilot on the airside, you might not be able to see inside the building as the glass is tinted. However, the exterior itself has been modelled to a very high level of detail, as has become the norm for an iniBuilds product. There is ground clutter everywhere surrounding the terminal, including ground vehicles, lights and pylons, protective barriers surrounding said pylons, cones, airstairs and more. It really gives you the sense that this is a well-used airport and you’re right there in the thick of it.
The terminal’s uniquely shaped roof and corresponding textures are of a high resolution, which is more than enough when you think that it’s not going to be seen that often. The team have even gone as far as to add the exterior gantries and walkways, along with their guardrails, to the terminal roof. Panning around with my showcase camera, I was desperately searching for something to nitpick about or criticise in the name of balanced coverage. However, I really struggled to find anything at all negative to say about the building.
The Terminal (Interior)
Not everybody really cares about having terminal interiors with their scenery, although hiding behind that tinted glass is one of the most detailed interiors that I think has ever graced Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Given that it’s a small terminal, there was never going to be much of an excuse to not cover things in detail here. So that is exactly what the iniBuilds team have done. The objects inside such as chairs, kiosks, bins, baggage conveyor belts, departure boards and so much more have all been covered exceptionally well. Not one single prop that’s been placed on the inside has not had hours put into making the edges rounded and the text easily readable. There is nothing that I can pick out as being an outlier to the obviously very high bar which is being set at Southampton. I would even go as far as to say that this interior detailing rivals that of Pyreegue Dev Co’s EGNX East Midlands.
As simmers, the closest that the majority of us ever get to a real-life cockpit is the experience of flying as a passenger, and so when we see virtual passengers at scenery products, (in my view) the overall immersion is enhanced. Buildings go from being empty shells to something that we can relate to, especially in cases where it’s an airport we’ve flown into and out of ourselves in the real world. So I was really pleased to see that the terminal is full of virtual passengers, excitedly waiting to start their holidays. Overall, I would say that the terminal interior is one of this product’s strongest features.
Southampton Airport has 14 marked parking stands, of which 12 are at or near the main terminal. 5 of them are in a cul-de-sac while the rest are perpendicular to the runway and taxiway alpha. Upon arriving at the airport for the first time you will be greeted by plenty of ground clutter as previously mentioned. Expect air stairs, airport management vehicles, fire trucks, baggage conveyor belts, trolley dollies, pushback tugs and more. The list goes on. And I love that. Having a cluttered apron is (to me at least) what really takes an airport from feeling polished but empty into one which feels alive. Parked off to the side of the cul-de-sac are also some deicing vehicles, catering trucks, and ground power units. I’m sure that with the addition of addons like GSX, this apron will very quickly start to feel busy.
And now I have to come to the ground textures. In previous reviews, I’ve said that this is what can really make or break a scenery product for me, so I’m pleased to report that the textures at Southampton are good. The apron itself isn’t asphalted but bricked over in a herringbone pattern. It’s certainly a unique look that makes you realise how small this airport really is. I think that the developers have captured this texture quite well overall.
At the business end of the apron, it’s the same story. By business end, I mean the two stands which are not by the terminal – these are used predominantly for business jets and executive aviation. There are fuel silos, clear and accurate ground markings, and a healthy dose of clutter to go along with it. We even get the modelled interior of a tiny little Signature Aviation lounge, which is a detail I love as someone who frequently uses the Citation jets in MSFS.
Taxiways and Runways
The runway at Southampton Airport has very recently been extended, which is great news for the Airport from a business standpoint. The owners hope that the added length will enable larger aircraft to visit the airport, opening the door for seasonal routes to holiday destinations from the likes of easyJet and Ryanair. Just recently, easyJet actually announced two new routes from the airport to Glasgow and Belfast starting in November, a direct result of the runway extension.
Although this extension was only completed some 5 weeks ago, I am very pleased to see that the iniBuilds team have included it. The textures on the runway also look good, certainly better than some of the other payware I’ve reviewed. You can see where the tarmac has been laid in tracks with clear lines running the length of the runway.
Perhaps if this wasn’t iniBuilds I wouldn’t be so harsh, but I do have to say – I wish there were some more obvious rubber markings, particularly near the touchdown zone. A quick look at Google Images confirmed to me that the real runway is smothered in these marks along the full length of the strip, but iniBuilds’ version seems to have them absent. Now it is possible that the runway has recently been resurfaced during the process of adding that extension, and Google Images might be out of date. Regardless, I feel that a little bit of wear around the touchdown marks would be nice. That being said it’s not like there is no wear at all – it’s just not as visible as I would like it to be.
How you like your taxiways to look is a bit subjective. Some people prefer a worn in look while some like things to look newer. I prefer mine looking worn in, and the iniBuilds team got Southampton’s taxiways perfect in my view. The yellow markings are not too bright nor too washed out, the concrete looks worn in and tired but not completely scuffed, and the painted on hold short markers for the runway are some of the best I’ve ever seen – especially on taxiway bravo where an old ‘Runway ahead’ sign has been painted over with a new marking, and now the old paint is now visibly wearing off.
The transition from concrete to grass is something else I think iniBuilds has pulled off very well. At some airports you see the texture go straight from solid dark grey or black to bright green grass with no attempt to transition smoothly between colours. iniBuilds has been smart with the way the textures are applied so as to ensure the transition from grey to green looks realistic and not too harsh. While the grey texture of the tarmac doesn’t fade unrealistically into the grass, instead there is dirt or dead grass immediately next to the asphalt which gradually fades into green, making for a much more realistic appearance.
The spectacular buildings I’ve already covered in this review don’t stop at the airside. iniBuilds has included highly detailed renditions of the Southampton Airport Parkway train station (and trains!), two multi-storey car parks (one of which borders a number of the parking stands), Royal Mail’s Southampton sorting centre, a Premier Inn, some sort of office for HSBC, a handful of buildings in a nearby industrial estate, and the nearby former Ford factory which produced the famous Transit Van.
Almost all of these structures are external only with no interior modelling, however, their models and corresponding textures are all up to the same standards we have seen elsewhere in the scenery. On the smaller buildings in the area, the iniBuilds team have made good use of parallax too, so although they don’t have 3D interiors, you would think that they do looking in from the outside. I was particularly impressed with the mail sorting centre with its fleet of Royal Mail vans and 18-wheelers adding a splash of red paint to an otherwise mostly grey part of the world. The train station is also exemplary. Here we see locally relevant adverts for a hovercraft service to the nearby Isle of Wight and a movie poster for Clint Eastwood’s film Richard Jewell – both clear and easily readable.
At the northern end of the airport, we also have a modelled long stay car park with pay points and bus stops included. Next door to that we also have a depot for South Western Railway’s locomotive stock, something which you will definitely notice on the final approach for runway 20. Here I’m pleased to say that the trains and even the tracks, rails and sleepers, have been modelled to a good level of detail. iniBuilds has also modelled two of the large locomotive sheds on the site which are a nice touch. However, just next to these sheds and directly beneath the approach path is a glaring issue with the way that the simulator’s satellite imagery interacts with some darker imagery which must have been taken more recently. I’m not sure whether this conflict in imagery is being caused by the scenery, but I’d like to have seen iniBuilds do more to remedy the situation.
There is also at least one large building here that isn’t present, but visible on the underlying satellite imagery, again directly beneath the approach path. I don’t know if that got missed or if there is some issue, but it’s a little disappointing nonetheless to see that it’s not present in the simulator.
I had no issues with my frame rate at Southampton. Flying in the Cessna Citation CJ4, my FPS never dipped below 55 and consistently stayed above 60 during all phases of being on the ground up to and including the takeoff. When I moved on over to a hungrier beast in the Fenix A320, my frame rates generally hovered around 40-50, only occasionally dipping into the thirties.
If you’re playing on an older system then those numbers will probably not mean much to you – so what I will say is that as an owner of iniBuilds’ Heathrow and Stansted airports, I found my performance at Southampton to be more or less in line with both of these products. I fly almost exclusively on VATSIM and when the network gets busy, especially at Heathrow, this will usually knock another 10-15 fps off whatever I get without any traffic injection. I can’t test that very easily here since Southampton is a much quieter airport than either of the two London strips even at the busiest of times. It’s important that if you’re flying on a network or are using an AI traffic injector like FSLTL, you take the performance hit of these applications into account when thinking if this product is going to work well on your system.
In line with other iniBuilds products, the iniManager software enables users to pick and choose which additional features they would like to be included with their product. This is very helpful if you run into performance issues and want to sacrifice some detail at the altar of FPS, however (at least in my preview build of the scenery) there are only toggles for static cars, GSE (ground service equipment) and 3D people. No sliders for that meaty terminal interior… I can only assume that it has a marginal impact on performance, but I’m sure a lot of users would like to have the option to exclude that interior anyway.
Southampton is not a 24 hour airport. The last flight of every weekday is the 8pm Aer Lingus ATR 72-600 service to Dublin. However as the winter sets in and the days get shorter, the night lighting at this scenery is going to become ever more important. I’m pleased to be able to report that the night lighting at Southampton is great, and I was not able to find any issues with it for the most part.
Around the airside of the terminal exterior, the classic yellow signs you find at all UK airports are all lit up, and a blue LED on the roof comes on which features a very nice hue effect. The apron is well lit by a dozen or so floodlights dotted around its perimeter, and the nearby landside buildings that overlook the cul-de-sac are clearly visible but not overpoweringly bright.
I like that the nearby Premier Inn has some windows with lights out and some with lights on, although I did find it odd that the HSBC building, a bank office, is still open for business at 3AM. Then again, they’re not called the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank for no reason, I suppose. They’ve got to be ready for the Asian markets opening!
The lighting intensity and colours vary across the airport correspondingly with the areas that are being represented. The multi-storey parkway car park for instance is lit with a very bright white light whereas the Royal Mail depot favours more of a sleepy, yellow/orange tone.
My colleague Calum did also notice a minor lighting bug down at the southern end of the airport on the motorway, where we have a few floating lights. Slightly annoying, but you’re not likely to notice them from a cockpit POV and it’s hardly a dealbreaker.
On the airside, the taxiways, runways are all lit with the correct lighting as you would expect, and the taxiway signs are lit up to a point where again, they are not too dim but also won’t blind you. Overall I am very impressed by the night lighting we get in this product.
My Final Gripe
My only real major issue with iniBuilds’ Southampton is the snow coverage. Now, it’s very rare that we get snow here in real life, being so low relative to sea level and given that the climate is pretty temperate. I live just down the road from Southampton and can only remember having one or two really snowy days in the last ten years or so. Admittedly then, this is not a scenario you’re likely to encounter if you fly exclusively with live weather turned on.
Out of curiosity though, I turned on the snow preset to see what a winter wonderland version of Southampton Airport could look like. Maybe iniBuilds knows something that I don’t about the airport operations team, but clearly this airport has some of the best snow clearance people in the world because there is not a single snowflake anywhere on the apron, taxiways or runways. Either that, or there wasn’t much thought given to snow coverage in this scenery. I would have liked to see more snow coverage on the apron and taxiways with the winter months coming up.
So, circling back on the original question posed by this review: Is this product any good? From me, it’s a resounding ‘yes’. I’ve covered a handful of issues and wishlist items, but I had to search for a long time before I could find anything I didn’t like about this scenery. Southampton’s airside detailing and textures and terminal interior is up there among the best we’ve seen in MSFS (although admittedly it is a smaller airport than the massive international hubs we’ve also seen in this sim). If you go snooping around for little details on the air or landside you will find them practically everywhere you look. I would have no qualms about recommending this product for the price of £12.99 excluding local taxes.