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Developer Month: Vatsim and Cross the Pond Interview


Welcome to the FSElite Developer Month. Our theme this year is about delivering for the community and part of that is delivering great content to you all. As part of our commitment to you all, we’re pleased to announced Developer Month – a month themed solely around celebrating our great development community. Over the course of March, you’ll be treated to some behind the scene looks at some of our favourite developers, stories from the FSElite team, exclusive interviews and more.

Vatsim has been a staple of the flight sim community for quite some time now. For years, people have used it as a means to create even more realitsic flying thanks to the professional controllers that use the network as the air traffic controllers. Throughout the year, various events take place to test the skill and knowledge of both pilots and controllers. No event is bigger than Cross the Pond (CTP) and we were lucky enough to speak to a few of the event directors to pick their brains.

Both Marc Eijkens and Frans Zwarts from Dutch VACC were kind enough to talk to us to give you some more insight into the planning and preparation for an event as large as CTP.

Of course, there’s so much more to learn about Vatsim, so we’ll be sure to cover it in the future.

Tell us a little about yourselves and how you got started with Vatsim?

Once upon a time I did selection for real air traffic controller. After some exams I was not elected to participate with the new group starting that year. So I said the dream farewell. But I discovered VATSIM and their vACCs. So I began to control on VATSIM as a Delivery controller. Nowadays I have the responsibility to communicate with the outside world as PR manager.  

Tell us what your typical day is usually like during the Cross the Pond event?

Getting up. Having a look on the weather for a forecast which runways to expect that day. That morning we will receive the last briefing for that day. Of course enough to drink and eat, however due to all the razzle dazzle during the event there is no time for drinks.

How do you handle so much traffic on the servers in terms of managing the people side of things?

To handle high amounts of traffic it is important to have a clear plan. For us this means making a roster for each ATC position we are staffing, knowing how much traffic we can expect at what times, decide on the runway configuration we will be using (based on the weather forecast)

When do you start the planning for Cross the Pond and what do you need to do to pull it off?

Once we know we are one of the chosen aiports (which we know around 4 weeks in advance) we start our planning process. For us at the Dutch VACC (Dutch division of Vatsim) we have to supply routes out of Amsterdam towards neighbouring airspace, making a roster for our controllers, and attending meetings with other participating divisions. The evening before the event there is an important meeting during which we decide which routes will be used and how much traffic each Area Control Centers can handle.

How many controllers are required for the event and how do you select them?

This year we made a roster with 15 controllers. Once we know we are one of the chosen airports we make a post on our forum and our controllers can submit their participation for the event. A week before the event we make a roster for all the positions we want to cover. For us this comes down to 8 positions and one back-up position. For us as a departure airport the focus is on getting aircraft out, so our Delivery and Ground positions are crucial during the event. To decrease the risk of large delays we try to plan our  more experienced controllers on these important positions, but also give newer controllers a chance to gain experience during the event.

How and why do you choose the airports that are represented for the event? Any chance of variation for next year as it typically seems to be the same ones

Planning for Cross the Pond (CTP) starts around two months in advance. The European and American division of Vatsim can submit a participation proposal for one of their airports. Each division can only submit one airport to be used during the event. For example Vatsim UK can’t submit both London Heathrow and London Gatwick and Vatsim Germany can’t submit both Frankfurt and Munchen. This gives airports besides the major airports in the UK and Germany also a chance to be involved for this event.

Vatsim users can then vote on the departure and arrival airport they would like to see during the event. The 10 airports (5 departure, 5 arrival) with the most votes are then chosen as the hosts for the CTP, this is known about 4 weeks before the event itself. We at Amsterdam have been lucky enough to have been chosen for quite a few years in a row now, but there has been plenty of variation during the previous CTPs.

What interests do you have outside of Flight Simulation?

Professionally I work at the Dutch Air Traffic Control as a simulation specialist to educate becoming traffic controllers. I also like to make graphic stuff like logos, pictures etc.

Where do you see Flight Simulation in 10 years time?

I hope the community still exists by then. But the future looks bright thanks to all the new cockpits and airports. However, the voice comm has to improve. The quality is very poor, so pilots need to do their best to understand what the controller says. If that does not improve the next 10 years, that could be a reason for me to say: maybe I will bail.

Positive are all the great events going on. People are enthousiastic and I think we do great things. We can garantee our policy: as real as it gets. We do that together, we all make it as real as it gets. And that is what I think we must hold on to.

Tags : CTPInterviewVATSIM
Calum Martin

The author Calum Martin

I have been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of ‘2000 and have developed my love for aviation ever since. I have the knowledge and experience to really deliver an excellent aviation community. Although no real life flying experience, I have a good understanding and always learning more and more.
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