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Pilots – Your Guide to VATSIM Cross the Pond Westbound 2020

A Guide To Vatsim Cross The Pond

VATSIM Cross The Pond is one of the most popular event the online network. The 2020 Westbound edition will start on April 4th at 1100Z. VATSIM CTP takes place twice a year, one time Westbound (from Europe to North America) and the other Eastbound (North America to Europe). 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.

Event location

There are 6 “official” departure airports and 6 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 : EDDK, EGCC, EHAM, EIDW, LIRF, LOWW
Arrival airports : CYYZ, KBOS, KJFK, KMIA, KORD, KSFO

Pilots who don’t have a slot and who still want to use these airports will either face delays, or their clearance could be refused. The best solution, if you were not able to grab a slot and still want to participate in the event, is to fly between airports that are not parts of the event. Chances are many other airports will also be staffed.

Flights

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, almost all the flights are cancelled, 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 weeks 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

https://www.flightradar24.com/data/flights/airlineIATAcode+flightnumber

So in this case of example, flight Air France 7 from CDG to JFK.

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

https://www.flightradar24.com/data/airports/airportIATAcode/departures

In the following example, here is the departure board of Amsterdam 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 :

The Flying Tigers Group

Virtual TWA

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.

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.

Aircraft

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

P3D/FSX

QualityWings Simulation Ultimate 787

PMDG 747 Queen of the Skies II

PMDG 777

Aerosoft A330-300

CaptainSim Boeing 757 III

Flysimware Falcon 50 (with GTN 650 or 750 integration)

X-Plane 11

JAR Design A330

Magknight 787

FlightFactor 777

FlightFactor 757

VMAX Boeing 767 Professional

X-Craft Embraer Legacy 650

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. 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 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, aknowledge ATC transmissions, do not block the frequency with transmissions longer than necessary. Two clicks on the mike can save a lot of time.)

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.

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

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.

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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

FLAi

AIG AI

P3D Payware AI Traffic Packs

Flight1 – Ultimate Traffic Life

Just Flight – Traffic Global

X-Plane Traffic Packs

Bluebell OBJ8 CSL Package

Just Flight Traffic Global

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 P3Dv4 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.

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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.

Departure Airports

EDDK

P3D: Aerosoft Cologne/Bonn (discounted)
X-Plane: Cedric Gauche Cologne/Bonn (freeware)

EGCC

P3D: UK2000 Manchester
X-Plane: UK2000 Manchester

EHAM

P3D: FlyTampa Amsterdam
X-Plane: Airport Amsterdam by Aerosoft

EIDW

P3D: MK-Studios Dublin
X-Plane: Aerosoft Dublin V2.0 for X-Plane

LIRF

P3D: Aerosoft Mega Airport Rome (discounted)
X-Plane: Aerosoft Airport Rome

LOWW

P3D: FlyTampa Vienna V2
X-Plane: X-Plane.at LOWW (freeware)

CYYZ

P3D: FlyTampa Toronto Pearson Airport
X-Plane: Globall Art CYYZ Toronto Pearson International Airport

KBOS

P3D: FlyTampa Boston Rebooted
X-Plane: MisterX6 KBOS Logan International Airport (Freeware)

KJFK

P3D: Drzewiecki Design New York Airports V2 or FSDreamTeam JFK New York V2
X-Plane: X-Codr KJFK New York (Freeware)

KMIA

P3D: LatinVFR KMIA Miami V5
X-Plane: Nimbus KMIA Miami

KORD

P3D: FSDreamTeam KORD Chicago V2 or Drzewiecki Design Chicago Airports X
X-Plane: Nimbus KORD Chicago V3

KSFO

P3D: Flightbeam KSFOHD
X-Plane: MisterX6 KSFO (freeware)

Routing

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 mentionned 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)

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The NATs are the highways in the sky that go across the Atlantic. In its 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 (odd if traveling East and even if traveling West) 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.

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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.

Requesting Oceanic Clearance is relatively easy. In most conditions, you request clearance and receive clearance whilst airborne. The controller you’re active with will clear you to change frequency and to contact the clearance controllers. In regards to what you need to request, this handy sheet will be of huge help.

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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.

A quick tip: the TMI is found on the link we gave for the NAT tracks.

Once you are then on the track itself, you will then need to give a position report to the oceanic controller. The position report is done to make sure that everyone is where they should be and no one is where they shouldn’t. It’s used in the real-world due to the fact there is no radar covering the Atlantic so controllers can’t see where the planes are. The cheat sheet above will give you an easy way to write down the data so you can relay that to the controller on frequency.

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.
  • While the official event kick-off time is 1100Z, we suggest pilots who don’t have a slot to wait for a couple hours to connect, because the departure areas will be extremely crowded during the first hours. Pilots connecting after the initial wave are less likely to face delays.
  • 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 aknowledge, 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. Keep your messages concise. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking in English, write down your message beforehand.
  • 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.

AviationPro

VATSIM Oceanic Procedures Tutorial: How to Cross the Pond! [2018]

Flightsimmer101

How to set up VPILOT and connect to VATSIM with model matching

Setting Up and Configuring xPilot

VATSIM

Approved Software

Code of Conduct

Cross the Pond Home Page

Cross the Pond FAQ

Final Words

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.

Tags : Cross The PondVATSIM
Guillaume

The author Guillaume

Guillaume can be found with either his head in the sky or on his legs running on the trails. He's a licensed glider and ultralight pilot and former Air France cabin crew along with 25 years of simming under his belt. He spends his nights reading and learning aircraft manuals and building his own home cockpit.
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