Airport Scenery

When flight simulators are released, they include a series of airports that are relatively generic in nature. In many cases, the base airports are reasonably accurate: the buildings, taxiways, and signs match airport diagrams. However, they may not be as visually stunning as some of the high-quality add-ons that are available.

In other cases, you may find issues with lighting, taxiways, or airport design in the base simulator that can be frustrating–especially if they affect an airport you fly to frequently.

Of course, real-world airports change over time. They built new taxiways and runways and expand terminal buildings. By default, these changes won’t be reflected in your simulator. That’s where add-on scenery comes in!

On the left, you'll see KBOS as released in Prepar3D v4.5, which represented the airport in 2006. The image at the right shows KBOS after a free update was installed for the same Prepar3D v.4.5. Can you spot the differences?! You can see that quite a bit has changed in the last few years.

Screenshots by Chris R.

Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS)

Because of the way it was designed, many smaller airports in MSFS have inaccurate taxiway signs or lighting that differs from the real-world airport. The simulator's developers have acknowledged this issue, and are working to improve it.

Until then, the community has been working quickly to fill the gaps left in the default airport designs. You’ll find hundreds of free airport updates available. The website is a great place to search for airports created by community members. In addition, the payware development community is quickly improving many of the world’s most popular airports (see the "Payware Scenery Options" section below for more information).

As an alternative to finding and installing scenery updates for each airport you fly to, consider Just Flight’s Real Taxiways. This single update corrects taxiway sign placement and accuracy for thousands of airports in a single installation.


X-Plane is the only simulator to fully embrace crowd-sourced scenery updates. Laminar Research, creators of X-Plane, have made a program called WorldEditor (WED) available to the community. This allows any user of X-Plane to use the stock library objects in X-Plane to edit and submit airports for approval.

Using the X-Plane Airport Scenery Gateway, users can search approved updates and can download them. In addition, staff “recommend” specific airport updates for inclusion into future versions of X-Plane. This significantly reduces the need for users to search for and find third-party airport updates on places like AVSIM.

The X-Plane Airport Scenery Gateway features scenery with X-Plane’s default object library. Beyond that, there are many other third-party sources offering great freeware scenery that make use of custom objects. is a great place to search custom scenery packages for X-Plane, which will generally be installed into the .../Custom Scenery/ folder of your simulator’s installation. As you’re searching, you’ll come across various “libraries” that scenery packs will require. You only need to install these libraries once.

Payware Scenery Options

Like with other Software Add-ons, there are free and paid options for add-on scenery across all simulators. Before jumping into paid scenery options, we encourage users to look to the freeware community. There are thousands of updates that will improve the accuracy of your simulator, and even some freeware scenery files (like this one for KBOS by MisterX) that look like payware quality!

In addition, some payware developers also provide free products. For example, If you fly in FSX or P3D and have purchased any of Orbx’s Global products, we recommend you install their Global Airport Pack. Available free to any Orbx Global customer, the Global Airport Pack contains hundreds of stunning airports with custom models, animated people and trees, static aircraft, and more. In general, the pack is focused on smaller, general aviation airports in unique settings.

In general, payware scenery tends to go beyond simply modifying airport layouts for accuracy. These days, you’ll often find custom-built 3D terminals, moving jetways, custom ground textures, and a whole lot more from payware scenery.

In addition to just updating taxiway layouts, payware scenery often adds custom models and textures. Compare the default KBOS on the top with the $28 version from FlyTampa on the bottom. You're paying for the extra detail on the hangar, terminals, and even the ground textures on the FlyTampa scenery.

Screenshots by Chris R.

Because each simulator is different, you’ll find a variety of scenery options available for each sim. Some of the community’s largest scenery developers create products for all sims, while others focus on just one or two.

There are two ways to find great-quality payware options. If you are looking for an update to a specific airport (perhaps because you like flying there), search the airport and simulator on Google (“KBOS Scenery Prepar3D”). You may find one, or several, payware options. You can also search FSElite for the latest news on payware products. Use the URL, changing the last four characters to the ICAO code you want to find. Finally, you can search the simulator marketplaces like Aerosoft’s web store or SimMarket.

Alternatively, you might just be looking for beautiful stuff. If so, names like Aerosoft, FlightBeam Studios, FlyTampa, LatinVFR, and Orbx tend to top the list of the community’s favorite and large-scale payware airport developers. You can also browse the list of scenery developers who offer discounts to our members.

Prepar3D and FSX

Prepar3D v4 and earlier, along with FSX, rely on airports created as early as 2006. As a result, runways, taxiways, and layout changes from the past 15 years might not be reflected in your simulator. However, the advantage of a 15 year legacy is that people have had plenty of time to create great scenery updates for these simulators. A great place to find free airport updates for P3D and FSX is the AVSIM Library. With a free account, you can search more than 220,000 files for various simulators. Searches can be refined by simulator and the type of file you’re looking for:

Once you’ve found the file you wish to install, download it. Almost all downloads will include a "readme" file that explains how to install the scenery update in your simulator. In most cases, installing scenery is as simple as placing it into a folder. Always read the instructions included with downloads.

We recommend creating a custom "scenery area" for Prepar3D or FSX to store all of your free add-on scenery. This will allow you to keep things in one place and make the installation consistent.

Creating A Custom "Scenery Area" for Prepar3D or FSX

By centralizing your add-on scenery in a single folder, it will be easy for you to search the directory to add and remove updates in the future. It’s also important to keep track of what you’ve added: you’ll see strange visual effects when you have more than one scenery add-on installed for the same airport.

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  1. Somewhere on your computer, preferably outside of the main simulator file structure, create a folder. You can name it anything you want, but Custom Scenery works well. This is the place you’ll store all freeware add-on scenery.
  2. Within this folder, create two sub-folders: scenery and texture.
  3. Open the simulator and access the Scenery Library from World > Scenery Library (or just click "Scenery" on the Scenario menu).
  4. In the Scenery Library click "Add Area...".
  5. In the "Select scenery" directory, select the folder you created.
  6. In the Scenery area name text box, type the name as you want it to appear in the Scenery Area list.
  7. Select "Cache this scenery" or "Use this scenery directly".
  8. Click "OK".

Once the scenery area has been added and the scenery cache reloaded, close the simulator. Each time you find a new airport scenery to install, you can place the files from the download into these two scenery and texture folders. When you re-open the simulator, the newly-downloaded files will be active.

Some users prefer to create separate areas for every scenery they install, while others like using this one “Custom Scenery” area and placing all scenery files there. Either method works.

For more information on P3D Scenery Libraries, visit P3D’s Learning Center.

Prepar3D v5 significantly changed how airports are rendered, meaning that airports designed for FSX and earlier versions of P3D may not appear correctly. However, v5 also released updates to 24,000 airports around the world, bringing the simulator’s stock airport library up-to-date as of about April 2020. You’ll begin to find P3D v5-compatible free airports on AVSIM and other sources, and the installation process is the same as in previous versions of P3D.

Most freeware updates for FSX and P3D make use of the same textures and objects you’ll see in the default simulator. While they will improve the accuracy of scenery, in most cases you won’t notice a dramatic difference in how the airport looks. If you’re looking for the picture-worthy scenery you may have seen on screenshots across the internet, look at our Payware Scenery Options section below. (Most payware scenery options include their own installers, which will place the scenery and automatically add it to your library.)

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