[Updated November 9th @ 2100Z]
VATSIM Cross The Pond is one of the most popular event the online network. The 2020 Eastbound edition will start on November 14th at 1100Z. VATSIM CTP takes place twice a year, one time Westbound (from Europe to North America) during Spring and the other Eastbound (North America to Europe) during Fall. The goal is to replicate at best the specific Oceanic procedures with full ATC from departure to arrival. The lack of radar coverage for traffic deconfliction above the Atlantic Ocean means that the aircraft must obtain a specific clearance, follow a given route and report their position regularly.
These procedures are not so easy to grab at a first glance, but worry not : here’s the FSElite guide to help you make your way across the pond and enjoy the experience as much as possible.
There are 8 “official” departure airports and 8 arrival airports where the traffic will be concentrated. This means that pilots who want to fly between these airports will need to have booked a slot in order to fly in and out.
Departure airports : CYYZ, CYYC, KATL, KBOS, KJFK, KMCO, KORD, TJSJ
Arrival airports : EDDH, EGLL, EHAM, EIDW, ESSA, LEMD, LOWW, LSZH
For the CTP Eastbound 2020, VATSIM has asked users to book a slot through an online lottery. If you have not been selected and attributed a slot, VATSIM has officially asked that pilots DO NOT FLY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC from any airport. Because of the basic rules of VATSIM, the supervisors will not strictly enforce this rule, so they are calling to the civic-mindedness of pilots and VATSIM members. Due to the huge nature of the event, it is though very likely many other airports not part of the event will also be staffed, so it is almost certain you will still be able to spend a great day on the network even if you are not crossing the pond.
Not all pilots seem to have received an email containing their slot. If you have a doubt, you should login to the Cross The Pond dedicated website and consult the Pilot Dashboard. Your slot should appear here as below. If not, this means you were unfortunately not attributed a slot. Remember, this puts you in a priority position for a slot for the next Cross The Pond event, which should take place in Spring 2021.
Now that we know between which cities we want to fly, we have to pick a flight. We have several choices.
Replicate a real world flight.
Because of the current COVID-19 situation, many of the routes we could find the previous years have been cancelled by airlines, however, we can still easily replicate those scheduled flights.
There are several ways to source flights as they were scheduled until up to a few months ago. You can use websites such as Flightaware where it is easy to enter a city pair and make your choice.
It is also possible to use Flightradar24.com to look for the scheduled departure flights at an airport. If you know the flight number you are looking for, you can look up the history of this flight by entering the following adress
So in this case of example, flight Air France 7 from JFK to CDG
Free users of FR24 will only see 7 days of historic flight, but this should be enough to make your choice.
Another way to pick a flight using FR24 is to look at the departure board of a specific airport. It is done by using the following URL
In the following example, here is the departure board of Orlando Airport.
Replicate a historic flight
How about paying a tribute to the airlines of the past ? Some Virtual Airlines have databases with historic schedules. For seasoned pilots, why not spice up a bit your Cross the Pond event and fly a PanAm or TWA route ?
Here are a few Virtual Airlines with good Historic Routes database :
Fly a non real world flight
After all, we are free to operate any airline between any pair of airport. This is the beauty of simulation. No 5th Freedom regulation here !
Fly a business jet flight
Because why not ? Depending on the route, several quality business jets add-ons have the range to operate across the Atlantic. See below for suggestions of addons. Also, for those who don’t have a slot, it could be a great opportunity to take-off from a more secondary airport. PMDG has also released their BBJ Expansion for the NGXu, meaning that you are now able to cross the Atlantic using a Boeing 737 with a realistic payload and fuel reserves. This is a good change !
Keep in mind that in case you do a last minute change, it is possible to amend the callsign of your slot on the CTP Dashboard.
Now that we know which city pair we are going to fly, it is time to choose an aircraft. Default aircraft in either X-Plane or P3D are not able to properly follow the navigation as it is edicted by ATC during such events. This requires the use of a complex add-on aircraft with P-RNAV capabilities (see here for a detailed explanation), either using the addon FMS, an advanced GPS unit.
Here are a few selection of aircraft for P3D and X-Plane that suit well the transatlantic routes
It is paramount that pilots are familiar with the operation of these aircraft. Due to the huge amount of traffic, ATC will be under a heavy workload. Pilots need to be reactive and able to comply as quickly as possible with ATC instructions. Expect instructions such as holding, radar vectoring, direct to and so forth. Hence, we advise you use an add-on aircraft that you are familiar with. Since the event kicks off at 1100Z, and many of you will have slots that are pushed way further in the afternoon, it could be a good idea to use Friday or Saturday morning to do a small training flight, and make sure you are familiar with all aspects of the aircraft.
And in case of problem, remember the motto in this order : aviate (fly the aircraft, down to manual flying if required), navigate (avoid terrain, fly the assigned route), communicate (report problems if any, acknowledge ATC transmissions, do not block the frequency with transmissions longer than necessary. Two clicks on the mike can save a lot of time.)
What about Microsoft Flight Simulator ?
Microsoft Flight Simulator could also be used for the CTP event, but in the absence of any advanced airliner or business jet add-on at the moment we currently consider the default aircraft to be too basic for the implied workload, such as precise holding and flightplan navigation. In consequence we would advise not to use this sim as it is likely you will not be able to comply with all ATC instructions. But be patient … MSFS is here to stay and there is no doubt it will see some great aircraft add-ons in the near future.
Setting up the sim – client, model matching and scenery.
Participating at such an event is not only about chatting with real ATC : it is also about seeing other aircraft that are not AI, but flown by other pilots.
To get online, you will need to download and install something called a ‘Pilot Client’. The client you download will depend on which simulator you will be using during the event. Two of the most popular ones are vPilot and xPilot. These tools enable you to set-up your microphone, headsets, begin the process of model matching and in general, connect you to the VATSIM network. Both vPilot and xPilot function almost identically, with vPilot being made for FSX/P3D and xPilot developed to work with X-Plane 11.
Alternatively, users can also use Swift, which offers more options but is also more complicated to set up.
With each client, you first need to download the most recent version (or update it if you have it installed) and then log in using your VATSIM credentials. If you’re not already signed up, you can do that here. You will need to note your VATSIM CID and password, as these are what connect you to the server. Ensure you then input your name, home base and choose a server. You ideally should choose one that is closest for the best experience.
Once you have set that up, you should then do some tests with your microphone and headset to ensure that’s all connected correctly. As per the instructions on the Audio for VATSIM website, your voice should be in the green bar when talking. If it’s too high or low, adjust your mic volume accordingly. After you’ve completed that, you should now head on to the model matching tab. Everything else is really down to you as an individual.
Model matching can be really easy. Thanks to some incredible developers out there, we can easily add hundreds of good-looking models to our simulator to ensure we don’t see generic aircraft when connecting to the network.
What is model matching?
When someone logs into the network, an aircraft type and airline must be selected. This information then is sent to the simulator to then display the correct model and the airline’s livery. It may not always match the exact livery the user has (for example, a special edition livery likely won’t be generated), but for general use, it works just fine.
How to correctly match up?
As mentioned above, there are a few ways in which you can add model matching rules. If you already own an AI traffic pack (e.g. Ultimate Traffic Live), then you can use those models in your simulator. Alternatively, there is a range of packs available specifically made for use for online networks such as VATSIM.
P3D Freeware Traffic Packs
P3D Payware AI Traffic Packs
X-Plane Traffic Packs
How Do I Install / Model Match?
Each package is different to install and come with their own instructions. FLAi, for example, simply downloads and extracts it to your main simulator folder. Once downloaded and installed, pilots need to install the Model Matching Ruleset. This file must then be placed into the Documents\vPilot Files folder. Once this is done, you can fire up your simulator.
In vPilot/xPilot, head to the “Model Matching” tab, and press the “plus” sign. Then select Custom rules, press “Add Custom Rules Set” and navigate to the FLAi_Model_Matching.vmr file. Ensure in the “Advanced tab” that only the Simobjects/FLAi package is checked. Now every time you will load vPilot, the correct set will be used.
There are advanced options if you have them installed outside the sim folder, as well as custom rule sets. Please refer to other tutorial guides for those instructions as that falls outside the scope for this article.
Choosing the scenery
Since default airports are usually severely outdated, it is important that pilots have updated sceneries. Whether they are freeware or payware and the overall quality of the depiction of the add-on is not very important, as long as everybody sees roughly the same taxiways, runways and spawns at the correct gate.
Here are a few choices to pick among for the selected airport of the event – unless marked as freeware suggestions are payware.
P3D: Drzewiecki Design New York Airports V2 or FSDreamTeam JFK New York V2
X-Plane: FunnerFlight New York Airport V2, Drzewiecki Design New York Airports XP V2, New York (Freeware) or X-Codr KJFK New York (Freeware)
For further realism, FSX and P3D users may choose to use FSDreamteam GSX with Level 2 expansion, which brings further pushback realism and allows users to conform with dedicated procedures at some airport. They will need to install dedicated further profiles for this. Good sources for profiles are iniBuilds and Cartayna Files. This will greatly enhance ground controller work by conforming with real procedures.
X-Plane users may also use the BetterPushback plug-in for similar functions.
Once we have picked a flight, have a departure airport, have a slot, have an aircraft, setup our sim with correct models and sceneries, now is the time to dive into flight planning.
Filing a Flight Plan
Filing a flight plan is an important element of having a good experience during the event. There are some great tools out there to assist in ensuring you produce a realistic and accurate flight plan. We would recommend using either SimBrief (freeware) or PFPX (payware).
Whichever you choose, you will have to fill in basic details. There are plenty of tutorials out there that focus on these tools, so be sure to check them out if you need help.
As per usual CTP events, if you have booked a slot, you will receive your routing 6-12 hours before the event. This route must be used (imagine it is your airline’s ops giving you this routing) when on the event. You can then put this route into your software (SimBrief or PFPX) and then it will give you all the other bits of data you need. Once you have populated that, it’s then important you complete the Flightplan Prefile page so that controllers can see your plan. You should submit this prior to connecting to the VATSIM network.
A few tips to remember:
- Ensure your callsign and aircraft type match what you input into your client
- Ensure that you have accurately put in the route, with correct SID (Standard Instrument Departure)
- Ensure you fill out details such as flight level (cruise altitude), aircraft equipment and your departure time (in Zulu Time) correctly
Navigating across the Atlantic Ocean
As we mentioned previously, due to the fact that there is a huge amount of traffic and no radar services, navigating across the Atlantic Ocean requires adherence to dedicated procedure. While a free routing system exists, the majority of flights use the North Atlantic Tracks system.
NATs (North Atlantic Tracks)
The NATs are the highways in the sky that go across the Atlantic. In their most simplistic form, they are simply a pre-determined set of waypoints across the ocean that offer the most efficient way for aircraft to fly. This could be based on weather or wind. The idea is to keep traffic at safe separations. The tracks themselves change on a daily basis, so on the day of the event, you will know exactly what waypoints to input into your aircraft or flight plan.
The tracks are split into different alphanumeric designations. For example, you may see on your routing NATC. This means you will travel on the ‘C’ track, which will consist of 7 different waypoints. They will consist of an entry point, an exit point and also 5 other waypoints based on coordinates over the ocean. Below is an example of what the full routing for NAT would look like.
RESNO 56/20 56/30 55/40 53/50 RIKAL
RESNO is the entry
56/20 56/30 55/40 53/50 is shorthand geographical coordinates
RIKAL is the exit point
If you’re using an aircraft that reads flight plan files produced by your flight planning software, they will import this data automatically from your flight plan. It’s always best to check. The best resource to see the current NAT information is this official government website.
When filing a flight plan on a NAT, you will also be given a cruise altitude (the usual rules are odd if travelling East and even if travelling West, but you might as well get an EVEN flight level flying eastbound and opposite) and also a mach number. Those two things are given to you during the event at the same time you receive your route.
Unlike other waypoints, your speed and altitude must comply with what you’ve been given. You will be asked to enter your NAT at a certain altitude, which should be conformed to. Your controller may give you exception should this be possible to change. Typically, you won’t be able to step-climb in the NAT either. As for speed, you will need to ensure you have a consistent mach through each waypoint on your NAT. If the aircraft you’re flying supports this, you can program it via the FMS, or set it via your MCP.
So for example, if you’re given NATC with an entry altitude of FL360 and a mach speed of 0.82, then you should be entering the NAT at those requirements. Your FMS may look something like this.
You then need to maintain that speed and altitude throughout the duration of the time you’re on the NAT, unless otherwise told to do so.
A good help during flight is to use Skyvector. You can input the route and display it on enroute charts. This great tool lets you add weather layers such as winds, storm and is very easy to use. Skyvector can also display the real current NAT tracks.
Oceanic Clearance and Position Reports
Perhaps one of the more complicated elements to flying across the Atlantic. Usually, once you’re in the sky, you simply cruise along being passed from controller to controller. However, when flying over a large body of water, you will have to be in contact with the controller throughout the whole crossing. Part of that communication happens also before you reach the NAT.
The novelty with the CTP 2020 Eastbound is the introduction of ADS-B separation over the Atlantic. In the past, due to the lack of radar coverage, traffic deconfliction was done remotely without any precise position of the aircraft, which would report the positions regularly over HF radio. Since the introduction of Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Brodacast and satellite relays over the Atlantic, ATC services are now able to track flights over the Atlantic even without radar coverage. For the first time, VATSIM will introduce this traffic management method over the Atlantic, which will largely decrease the pilot and ATC workload. This will also make the event more realistic as nowadays most pilot reports are done through ACARS, and none of the flight simulators available to the great public is able to properly simulate HF radios anyways.
The consequence is that there should be no or barely any ATC voice contact when crossing the Atlantic during this event, unless trouble happen with the system. This new system also means position reports are obsolete and are not needed anymore.
In order to familiar yourself with Oceanic procedures, you should also consult the Knowledge Database that VATSIM Gander Oceanic ATC Services has put online.
Requesting Oceanic Clearance is relatively easy. In most conditions, you request clearance and receive clearance whilst airborne. In regards to what you need to request, this handy sheet will be of huge help. The position report shouldn’t be needed, but just in case, here it is.
Click the image to be taken to the download page.
In essence, you will need to read to the controller your intentions (your routing, your estimated time of entry to the NAT, approved altitude and approved speed). They will then read back the information and you need to confirm. You are then handed back to the original controller and you continue as normal.
Oceanic clearances and pilot reports for this 2020 Eastbound Event will be given using the natTRAK tool. Make sure you are familiar with the tool before you make your first contact. It is a fairly easy tool to use. Here’s how it works.
Once logged in :
- Select Pilot > Oceanic Clearance. There is no need for you to change to the Oceanic Delivery frequency while you request your clearance through this tool – remain with your domestic frequency if you have problems.
- Request your Oceanic Clearance via the tool. You can then keep checking the “Oceanic Clearance” page to see if you’ve received your clearance. Your actual clearance will be private messaged to you on the VATSIM network.
You will take the following steps only of position reports are needed, which shouldn’t be the case.
- Once you get to your NAT entry point and for each subsequent position report, select “Pilot” and select “Position Report”.
- Fill in your position report and click “Submit Position Report”. You may receive confirmation via the network that your position report has been received. FOR YOUR FIRST POSITION REPORT, you may see a reduced list of table entries for making the position report – in this case, fill in the fields and submit, then submit your full position report on the next page. A small glitch!
A quick tip: the TMI is found on the link we gave for the NAT tracks.
The FSElite Random Advice
- Go to the bathroom and take some food and water supplies with you for the first 3 hours of flight. It is not acceptable to be AFK when in a position to receive new instructions at any moment ! During the crossing of the Atlantic, you will have plenty of time to go to the bathroom between each position report.
- Take time to configure your sim. There is nothing worse than realizing upon landing you forgot to activate the scenery. Our advice ? Do it the day before, it will save you a lot of stress on the day of the event.
- Update what needs to be. AIRAC, charts, addons … make sure everything works and has been tested beforehand.
- Don’t spawn on the runway. Make sure you connect at a parking stand. Another aircraft is already there ? Never mind. Stay in place, and let the ATC deconflict the matter. Due to the very high amount of traffic, it is likely your stand will already be taken. In all cases, keep calm.
- Use a pencil and paper. Write down information. Receiving a new squawk, or an amended clearance ? Write it down, then acknowledge, then change the box. It’s better to loose 5 seconds replying with the correct information than to have the ATC repeat each instruction twice.
- Don’t block the frequency. We can not stress this enough. We noticed during the previous events that A LOT of the radio traffic was unnecessary. If you use ACARS to report your position online, don’t cross check on voice if the controller has received your message. This create unnecessary radio traffic and increases the workload for the ATC, which in turn will deliver a less efficient service.
- Keep your messages concise. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking in English, write down your message beforehand.
- Respect the etiquette. Don’t act if you were alone on the network. Wait for a conversation between an aircraft and the ATC to be over before passing your message. Stay calm and wait your turn.
- Virtual fuel is cheap. There WILL be delays. Expect long taxi times, and maybe an hour or more of holding upon arrival. Plan wide margins, so instead of being a burden for ATC, you become one of those reliable pilots who can comply with any instruction and relieve the workload of the friendly volunteer at the other end of the mike.
Other Helpful Resources
There are loads of resources out there with plenty of useful tips, tricks and information that will help you have a fun and enjoyable experience on the network during Cross the Pond. Below are some of them.
Video with lots of insight regarding oceanic crossings on VATSIM.
How to set up VPILOT and connect to VATSIM with model matching
Setting Up and Configuring xPilot
Remember that while flight simulation is done seriously, fun should prevail above all. The community is wide and not everyone has the same level of knowledge. No matter how delayed you are, how the vectoring did not work for you or another pilot is doing a mistake, there is NO EXCUSE for the loss of etiquette on the frequency.
If you have any comments, questions or feedback, let us know in the comment section and we’ll adjust the article if we feel it’s needed to assist with anyone trying to get involved. If you’re from VATSIM and need us to amend the information or clarify, please do reach out.
Good luck to all and remember: have fun.
This article is a collaborative work of the FSElite Team. Many thanks to Andrew Ogden and the Gander OCA Team.