Head To Head: Orbx Innsbruck and MSFS Hand-Crafted Airport

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Innsbruck is situated at the heart of the Austrian mountains. As a favourite destination for skiers and aviation enthusiasts alike, the airport is famous for its tricky approach in any weather meaning it is a must-visit for any simulator pilot. From the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator on August 18th, many have found themselves at the default, ‘hand-crafted’ Innsbruck airport as one of the 30 custom-built airports included in the standard edition. Shortly after the release, scenery developer Orbx released their rendition of the airport, previously developed for Prepar3D and later X-Plane. Considering the level of detail that Microsoft and Asobo have produced for the latest flight simulator, many have asked why companies release custom third-party scenery for airports that are included in the hand-crafted list. I hope this comparison between Microsoft’s default ‘hand-crafted’ airport and the only third party airport replacement available so far in order to answer this very question. 

Buildings and Modelling

Let’s start the comparison with the airport tower. Emblazoned with the famous ‘Inns’bruck Airport’ signage, the tower on both airports look similar to the real-world counterpart and instantly recognisable. It is only when you compare the two buildings side by side you start to recognise the sheer differences between the two and realise that they are worlds apart. In the default scenery, the tower appears to be the correct shape, but the colour of the entire building is incorrect. The tower also has incorrect PBR properties associated with it as it appears glossy and more reflective the closer you get to it. Compared to the Orbx tower which appears to be of a much higher quality with a more appropriate colour, texturing and detail that is unrivalled by the default rendition. 

Moving onto the terminal and other airport buildings, the same comparisons can be made throughout. Although recognisable, the hand-crafted default airport lacks a focus on the small details that bring the airport to life. The airport in the real world has ‘Flughafen Innsbruck’ in white signage above the main terminal. This feature of the airport is included in both releases with the Orbx development going one or two steps further. At night, the real airport signs on the tower and the top of the terminal illuminate, this is only modelled in the Orbx reproduction. When it comes to the finer details, Orbx has included a viewing terrace with people and umbrellas, more accurate colouring to the outside of the building, as well as a more representative shape to the modelling, compared to the real-life tower. The default airport appears to have a glass roof in place of where the terrace should be, but it does include internal building modelling which is of good detail. Unfortunately, this interior modelling is repeated throughout the building. When viewing from further away, the repetition negatively affects the overall look and feel of the terminal. The texturing on the main buildings is of a higher resolution on the default airport but these appear less detailed than the Orbx textures. This is quite noticeable when it comes to the roofs of both sceneries. Although the default airport has included different materials and added details such as solar panels, the Orbx release is far better at representing the buildings as they are in real life. 

The difference between the hand-crafted airport to the Orbx release becomes even greater when looking at the hangars and engine run-up area towards the western end of the airport. At the real airport, these hangars are owned and operated by Tyrolean Technik, a maintenance company for Austrian Airlines. In the default airport, these hangars are included but appear bland and uninteresting. The Orbx rendition, on the other hand, is packed full of details including a more accurate 3D building shape, Tyrolean signage, outlines of an old sign that has been removed and improved textures and colouring of the building and the hangar doors. The engine run-up area is not included in the default scenery but is modelled well in the Orbx version. This area is used to test engine power when on the ground and includes jet-blast shields and grass mounds to help deflect the blast and noise from the surrounding areas. Just behind the large hangar is a small group of buildings which serve as the base for helicopter operations at the airport and include a helipad. This area is modelled in both releases but like the other areas mentioned, there is considerably more detail in Orbx’s rendition. 

Left = Microsoft Flight Simulator | Right = Orbx Innsbruck

On the opposite side of the airport to the main terminal, Innsbruck has a grass runway and a host of buildings mainly dedicated to gliding. This area is where the default scenery seems to lack the most accuracy and detail. In the real-world, this area is littered with glider boxes, tow aircraft and of course, gliders. There are five main buildings that back onto a small apron and taxiway Zulu where aircraft operate. In the default airport, the buildings lack detail and look very similar. These are at least placed in the correct position. Unfortunately, that is all that is present here: no ground clutter, glider boxes or AI aircraft, static or otherwise. On the contrary, the Orbx scenery contains all the items mentioned before as well as a detailed apron and taxiway, custom made buildings that have been textured independently and bring the area in line with the standard of the rest of the airport. 

Left = Microsoft Flight Simulator | Right = Orbx Innsbruck


In the default scenery, the textures on the main apron and taxiways are high-resolution concrete but seem to be from stock textures based on materials such as asphalt and concrete, found at the other airports in the simulator. For example, aprons are light grey, and taxiway and airport vehicle roads are a much darker grey. Throughout the airport, these textures appear brand new, with no wear and tear. Alternatively, the Orbx scenery shows oil and rubber/skid marks left by aircraft throughout the taxiways and apron, which are colour matched with the real airport. Orbx has also included areas where there may have been repair work, modelled by a material change from concrete to asphalt. The apron and roadways in the Orbx release are far better than the default as they have included white road markings, pedestrian crossings and hazardous areas such as refuelling areas. In the default airport, taxiway Alpha is rather geometric as it turns towards the runway which reveals the real-world taxiway on the Photoscenery below. The Orbx version has a much smoother turn in the taxiway which has a much better appearance.

Over on taxiway Zulu, near the gliding area on the opposite side of the airport, there is a distinct lack of detail when it comes to taxiway markings and ‘hold short’ signage. They simply do not exist even though they are present in the real-world airport as well as the Orbx release. A key feature that is simply overlooked in the hand-crafted scenery is the grass runway. In the real world, and on satellite imagery, the strip is denoted by white datums running along the perimeter of the runway. Although there are no gliders available in Microsoft Flight Simulator, these datums are nowhere to be found in the default airport, but once again are present in the Orbx scenery. The differences between the two releases extend when the sun goes down: the Orbx release provides dynamic lighting across the airport whereas the hand-crafted airport lighting is limited to the main apron, limited lighting towards the hangars and no lighting around the glider buildings. These small features that are missing in the hand-crafted airport compared to the Orbx release are where the third-party scenery is positioned head and shoulders above the default, which adds to the user’s experience. 

Left = Microsoft Flight Simulator | Right = Orbx Innsbruck

Let It Snow

Microsoft Flight Simulator includes the ability to add snow to the environment, you can increase the amount of snow falling as well as the amount already on the ground. Both airports create a very realistic Innsbruck in the snow but Orbx generally overtakes the default. I have noticed that whatever amount of snow selected, there are areas of the airport that appear unaffected. on taxiway Bravo between the runway and the apron, on the backtrack turnaround areas as well as a smaller area surrounding some radio equipment on the airfield. Providing the snow layer isn’t too thick, these issues are not as noticeable. 

Left = Microsoft Flight Simulator | Right = Orbx Innsbruck

Among the hustle and bustle of the aircraft at the airport, both the default and Orbx products include ground clutter such as the distinctive yellow aircraft handling vehicles, cars and trucks in the car park, and AI aircraft. The main difference here is down to the quality of the items. Again, the default airport uses stock items commonly found at other airports to bring Innsbruck to life whereas Orbx has taken the time to model their 3D objects with greater precision and attention to detail. Orbx has included real-world aircraft that you would occasionally see at Innsbruck to occupy the aircraft stands, such as various business jets, an Austrian Bombardier Dash 8 and a TUI Boeing 757. They have also added customised ground vehicles and clutter such as cargo pallets, emergency vehicles and Passenger Indicator Guidance Systems (PIGS for short) with ‘Innsbruck airport’ decals at each of the main gates. Along with the placement of many items around the airport, Orbx has included red and white boxes to denote ILS equipment and three accurately placed windsocks around the runway which is not included with the default airport. 

Away From The Airport

Outside the airport terminal, Orbx has improved on the default, to include a custom-built car park complete with billboard advertising and cars occupying each level, whereas the default car park appears stock, boring and empty. In the default airport, cars appear in a heaped mess just behind the last main building before the hangars. There is little detail in the landside area in front of the terminal compared to the Orbx release too. Although these details aren’t a necessity to fly into the airport, the Orbx airport does create another level of realism that you just don’t get from the hand-crafted airport from Microsoft and Asobo.

Moving further away from the airport, Innsbruck is full of sights to see. Unfortunately, these are only modelled in the Orbx version; The Bergisel ski jump facility, originally built for the 1964 and 1976 winter Olympics is nestled in the mountain ranges to the south-east of the airport as well as numerous bridges, shopping centres and the university hospital which also encompasses a heliport. although these points of interest have been included in the Orbx version, the texturing does seem low resolution compared to the default buildings. Orbx has also made additional changes to the ground textures around the city, this is more evident when looking at the river Inn (from where the city gets its name, bridge over the Inn) that runs throughout the city. In the default, the river looks more like shallow Mediterranean coastal waters whereas, in the Orbx scenery, the river is a deeper blue. When referring to real-world imagery, it appears that the default ground textures are a closer match to the actual colour of the river due to its unique levels of minerals. 

Left = Microsoft Flight Simulator | Right = Orbx Innsbruck


Overall, the default, hand-crafted airport is accurate to its real-life counterpart in respects to correctly placed objects and added features such as the tower signage. The downfall comes with detail to the airport and the objects used. It seems as if the buildings have been created with the default technology that is used to create the majority of the airports, then altered by the developer to add in the additional detail, using a library of stock buildings and ground vehicles. If you visit Innsbruck more than once in your simulator career, I recommend the additional scenery from Orbx as the added detail brings a much better experience at a relatively small cost. I have also seen very little performance differences on a moderate PC setup. Although Orbx’s release was built for previous platforms, the look and feel of the third-party airport in the Microsoft Flight Simulator environment makes a good airport look great. 

Tags : AirportComparisonHand-CraftedInnsbruckORBX
Jordan Williams

The author Jordan Williams

Jordan works in operations for a brewery, pub and hotel company in London. He lives with his partner and dog in Wimbledon. Discovering flight simulation when the 3x CD FS2002 was released. He then followed the natural progression up until P3D, where he switched platforms to X-Plane 11. When he is not working or flying (sat at his desk), he enjoys playing the drums, rowing, cycling and running.
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