X-Plane implements lots of things well, but AI traffic isn’t one of them. There have been many attempts to implement AI traffic; some payware, some freeware. None of them have encapsulated all the features we want or need when it comes to creating busier skies. The latest release to try and attempt to inject the next level of life into X-Plane is Traffic Global XP from Just Flight. Just Flight has lots of experience in creating AI movement for the flight simulation community but their focus has been around the ESP based simulators, never X-Plane. Traffic Global for FSX and P3D has been released in early access stage for some time, and although it has received some minor updates, the addon remains in early access. Traffic Global XP for X-Plane however, is a full release. The developer’s reasoning behind this isn’t because the X-Plane version is further along than the FSX/P3D version. Instead, the two are separate programs that share some models and texturing, but the coding behind the scenes is very different, and the two products just share the name. This review doesn’t serve the purpose of comparing the level of detail or execution of Traffic Global across different platforms. Instead, I set out to discover what may or may not make Traffic Global XP the best AI traffic addition to the X-plane platform yet.
Traffic Global XP is available in an instant download format, direct from the Just Flight website and it costs £35.00. Since the release, there have been 4 updates, some more major than others. Each update is provided by simply re-downloading the latest version from the My Account section of the website. The team is constantly adding more models and airlines along with any bug fixes to help improve the system. The version I have for this review is version 1.0.8796, there has been 1 update since this release which addressed some additional minor bugs. The installation process is quick and simple once downloaded. You run the installer and follow the instructions. The only thing the installer may ask you, is to locate your X-Plane folder where it will install Traffic Global XP. The overall size Traffic Global XP takes up on your hard disk is around 7GB. Once installed, the program is ready to go. Open up X-Plane and your airports and skies will be populated automatically each time you start your simulator.
As soon as you start X-Plane for the first time after install, the sheer difference that Traffic Global XP makes is immediately apparent. Starting from a stand at London Gatwick, I was astounded by how many different airlines and aircraft I could see. The modelling of the aircraft is some of the best modelling I have seen when it comes to an AI aircraft package. Just Flight has taken time to model over 60 different aircraft, including the latest aircraft such as the Airbus A350. All planes come with variable speed animated turbine fans or props, working landing gear, flaps and speed brakes. The models are high fidelity and look impressive. Each model takes advantage of the default particle effect system that comes with X-Plane. This means you see exhaust heat coming from engines when they are on and this effect varies whether the AI aircraft’s engines are on full power or not. AI traffic in cruise also pulls white contrails across the skies. Contrails do reset every time you select another view of your aircraft but from the flight deck, you often spot the contrails before you spot the aircraft itself which helps identify traffic en route.
Traffic Global XP includes over 850 liveries so far, which covers most airlines across the globe – including many variations of the same airline. This is a great touch as it brings variation to the traffic you see around you, instead of the same easyJet livery copy and pasted across every aircraft. Among the various models and liveries are some quite rare spots that you may not commonly see around. Some examples of these are the Jet2 A321 leased from Titan Airways, or the JetBlue New York’s Finest celebration livery. Each of the liveries has been made by a team of texture artists that have put together an eclectic mix of liveries that bring an authentic approach to traffic within X-Plane.
As far as visuals go, it doesn’t get better than at dusk moving into the night time. Each aircraft is equipped with cabin interior lighting, logo lights, flashing strobe, beacon lights, green and red navigation lights along with taxi and landing lights. All lighting is dynamic and turns on and off when necessary. This means beacon lights turn off when engines are shutdown and landing lights appear when the gear is extended.
Aircraft sounds put the icing on the cake in making the AI traffic look and feel as real they can be. Historically, the sounds of AI traffic packages were either terrible or non-existent. Traffic Global XP has an impressive sound package that differs from aircraft type to type. Like the lighting, the sounds are also dynamic in the way they change in pitch and volume depending on whether the aircraft is closer or further away, taking off, taxing or in cruise. My favourite engine sounds would have to be those of the Bombardier Dash 8. the changes in pitch of the turboprop engines are modelled as good as it would be on any flyable aircraft.
The second aspect of the plugin that left me astounded was that it had no impact on performance. We all know that in simulation, a single plugin can grind your sim to a halt. Traffic Global XP has an almost unrecognisable impact on performance, with no FPS loss, no stuttering and instant load times. The only time I did notice a slight drop in FPS was when navigating big airports such as Heathrow or JFK. These areas are generally hard on systems anyway and with the added load on my PC with the added traffic, I saw only around a 1 or 2 FPS drop compared to having default traffic.
Aircraft movements are fluid and generally good. Aircraft taxi around the airport as they would in real life. Traffic Global XP takes information directly from X-Plane to build airport ground routes, therefore any new 3rd party airports that are added to X-Plane, will be used by AI traffic without any further steps made by the user.
I have found that take-off and landings can be either hit or miss. Overall, aircraft land and take off as you would expect, touching down just after the piano keys and rotating approximately two-thirds down the runway. At other airports, I have seen some aircraft landing about a mile short of the runway and rotating as you would expect but not taking off until about a mile after the runway has ended. This has only happened at three 3rd party airports so far, so I guess this isn’t too much of an issue, but an issue all the same. The only other critical comment regarding take-off is that the aircraft do seem to climb at the correct rate but the angle of attack seems shallow for the angle of climb.
Traffic Global XP recognises the weather around the airport to determine the active runway for take-off and landing. I have found that it doesn’t always utilise multiple runways at the same airport as well as it could. For example, Manchester has two parallel runways and normal operations would have one runway dedicated to arrivals and one for departures. Traffic Global XP used one runway for both arrivals and departures.
Whilst on the ground among the AI traffic, you take priority. AI aircraft will hold short of your current path and if you come within a certain distance of taxiing aircraft, they will stop to give way to your aircraft. This works well and helps you work out what the AI traffic’s movements will be.
To access lots of the features and settings for Traffic Global XP, you simply locate the menu through the plugins drop-down list within the X-Plane menu bar. Through this drop-down list, you can tweak the utility to your liking. For instance, you can find a slider to change the density of the traffic you see around you. Dynamic density is a function that will optimise the amount of traffic to give you the best performance. You can change the internal volume level that you hear inside your aircraft or you can even turn the AI aircraft sounds off if you so wish. Particle effects can be disabled through the settings menu and as I mentioned before, this is the only function I have been able to see that impacts the frame rate.
There are three key settings that are important to how Traffic Global XP works within X-Plane. ‘Collide with User’, if checked, will enable collisions and damage to your aircraft with the other AI aircraft. This has caught me off guard a few times in the beginning when I have taxied too close to a parked aircraft or not stopped in time, resulting in having to restart the flight because I have inflicted damage to the aircraft.
The ‘Never Steal Parking’ setting relates to airline traffic at airports where airlines have their own gates. For example, Terminal 2 at JFK is reserved for Delta traffic only. With this function unchecked, any parking space available will be filled with the next landing aircraft and you will see different airlines occupying spots that in the real world may be reserved for an airline. I have found that even with this function checked, at some third-party airports such as Heathrow, I still see airlines other than British Airways scattered around Terminal 5. This may be down to the scenery not including this data within their scenery files.
The third setting is ‘Allow Substitutes’. Traffic Global XP uses real-world data and flight routes to implement AI traffic but only has a limited, although large, number of airline textures and aircraft models. It is likely that with all these different combinations of aircraft and liveries, some routes cannot be used as there would be a missing aircraft or livery to operate the route. If you check this box, Traffic Global XP will match the closest aircraft to the route data and operate the route most likely using an unpainted livery. This function will increase the amount of traffic you will see in the skies but will be less realistic as you will see white, blank aircraft everywhere.
The final setting I want to mention is ‘Use TCAS’. This allows Traffic Global XP to add 19 aircraft to the X-Plane default AI aircraft list. This then adds the closest 19 AI aircraft to cockpit radars and traffic systems, if your aircraft is equipped of course. X-Plane limits the amount of aircraft produced at one time to 20 and therefore you will only be able to see the 19 aircraft closest to your position at one time. This function will not work if you have an online client installed for VATSIM. You will need to disable the plugin for TCAS to work. You will get a red message at the bottom of your screen if there is a conflict. Whilst on the subject of flying online, Traffic Global XP will still operate as normal, minus TCAS, if you log onto the network. I found that this combines the best of online and offline flying.
Traffic Global X can use User Datagram Protocol (UDP) casting if you are using a separate PC to drive your simulator visuals. I only use one PC and therefore haven’t had any experience with this setting.
Within the drop-down menu bar, you will find three separate viewing options that show you what AI traffic is in your surrounding area. I have found that I use the pop-out radar window the most as this centres a radar on your position and you can see all the surrounding aircraft on the ground and in the air. This is useful when you are curious as to what route and airline, the aircraft closest to you are operating. This feature also lets you hover over an aircraft which will show you details such as aircraft type, speed, altitude, original airport and destination just like a real-world traffic radar would show. If you click an aircraft you are taken to an external view of this aircraft. Whilst viewing an aircraft, the default camera view is too far away from the aircraft and it takes a while to zoom in as the camera view change functions are quite sluggish and slow or too fast to control.
The flight departure board can seem quite confusing at first but this shows all the aircraft that Traffic Global XP is inserting into the sim. A neat function is showing whether the aircraft is on the ground, departing or arriving with icons to make this look less cluttered. There is also a column to show the aircraft that are in the vicinity of your aircraft and therefore being displayed in your simulator environment. Other information such as flight number, departure airport and destination are also available through this list just as you would find on a departure board in an airport. I decided to look up some of the flight numbers that Traffic Global XP gives online. The flight numbers seem to be arbitrary numbers given to real-life routes. This isn’t the biggest of issues but something that may have been overlooked when compiling the flight route data. If you click a flight on the board, you are taken to the external camera mode of the aircraft. To get back to your aircraft you simply select a regular view from your view key bindings.
Flight Path View was intended for development purposes only, but this is a cool feature that I am happy that the development team has left in. This window shows a map of the current position or airport and represents aircraft as pink dots. If you click a dot, you are taken to the external aircraft view as in the other views. This view is helpful as it shows you the route of any given aircraft so you can plan your way to the runway without conflicting other traffic or find out the active runway that Traffic Global XP has selected. This is the most visually aesthetic view and still tells you lots of information regarding the flights around you. If you hover above the pink aircraft dots, you will see all the information regarding that flight. Flight Path View will also show you which arrival or departure route the aircraft will take and any SID/STAR waypoint the aircraft will cross, these are represented on the map with red dots. All the ways of viewing nearby traffic have their strengths, but I prefer the radar view as it is the most straight forward and it tells you all you need to know. I would like all three of these viewing options in a single pop-out menu that you could switch between all three.
Each aircraft can be viewed with or without labels. These tell you all the flight details in a reduced or detailed red label. To toggle AI aircraft labels, you simply hit the insert key until you get your desired label. The labels are not very obtrusive and you can happily get used to flying with them, but I prefer to toggle them on and off when I need the information. Just Flight has mapped some quick view key bindings to allow you to snap to a runway or tower looking at arriving and departing aircraft. This is great if you want to do some spotting on your turn-around. If you forget the key bindings, you will be able to find them in the comprehensive manual that comes with Traffic Global XP. This 26-page document has everything from frequently asked questions to descriptions of each of the settings, and the manual also comes with insight as to why Traffic Global XP works the way it does.
A few final comments before I wrap it up. When in replay mode the aircraft responds well and most of the moving parts work as well as they do in real-time mode. Some intermittent replays show the flaps at strange angles. This is apparently down to an X-Plane issue rather than a Traffic Global XP issue. You may have noticed that I haven’t spoken about General Aviation traffic or Military traffic throughout my review. Unfortunately, in its current state, Traffic Global XP only exhibits airline traffic. This may be because airliners always fly IFR and their routes are readily available as opposed to GA and Military movements. JustFlight does address this concern in the manual and has made comments in their forums about possibly releasing these as updates or expansions to the current system.
I think this is a stable AI traffic generator that works well on any system. Its biggest strength is the quality of models, textures, lighting and sounds. I would like to see a little bit more polish on the flight dynamics of the aircraft as they take off and land. I like the integration of X-Plane particle effects including contrails and the ability to view AI traffic in replay mode.
- Despite the amount of onscreen traffic, performance is solid.
- The 3D modelling of the AI aircraft is really detailed.
- Similarly the texture work is excellent.
- Listening to the sounds of the AI aircraft is awesome.
- No GA or military AI traffic for those looking to populate the skies with that type of traffic.
- Issues of some aircraft not landing or taking off on the runway.
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