The Online World

As of 2020, over half of flight simmers (58.4%) choose to fly online.

Source: Navigraph 2020 Community Survey

Just like flight simulators themselves, the world of online aviation is the ultimate sandbox, full of options that appeal to users of all aviation interests. Whether you are brand new to aviation, a desktop flight simulator veteran, or a real-world student or certificated pilot, you’ll find a home in the online aviation world.

The Benefits of Flying Online

Flying online allows you to do so much more than flying alone!

Socialize

Multiplayer enables you to meet new people. From group flights to airliner operations, you will find a group of pilots that shares your interests.

Learn

Through "hangar talk" or just chatting during a flight, you will pick up simulator tips and tricks, discuss rules and regulations, and ultimately become a better pilot.

Perform

Only through multiplayer can you truly experience the thrill and challenge of carrier landings, air racing, military operations, and formation flying.

Fly With ATC

Air traffic control provides a new level of realism and learning for the simulator and student pilot. Airspaces, regulations, and procedures become the norm.

Why Fly Online?

There's something unique about flying together. It doesn't matter how specialized your interest is—you'll find others that share that passion.

There are groups devoted to just about every aspect of flight, from small general aviation hops to fast-paced military operations. You can find casual experiences where you can get in an airplane, start flying toward a destination, and talk about aviation along the way. Or you can find highly realistic air traffic control groups that are intent on simulating real-world operations. Wherever you end up, flying online allows you to find and get to know people who share your interests. It's the best way to broaden your horizons and take your simulation to the next level.

Real people are unpredictable; they make mistakes, they pose new challenges—and in doing so, they create a much more dynamic and engaging environment than the robotic aircraft and air traffic controllers found in single player. Worried about being "too new"? We all remember our first flights on a desktop simulator, and people in multiplayer sessions are some of the nicest and welcoming pilots you'll find. Many of the established communities have detailed learning material, and some even offer virtual one-on-one training in an aircraft. Even if you just join in for the discussion, you'll pick up new techniques and ideas for flying the aircraft and tweaking the simulator in addition to being with an accepting group of people who are passionate about aviation.

What Are The Options?

The online aviation world has so much more to offer than the single player environments available in in 'single player' flight simulator modes. In general, there are two types of online aviation communities: Casual Aviation Communities and ATC-Based Communities.

Casual Aviation Communities are normally focused on the magic of flight and the fun of social interaction, offering mission-based activities, challenging group flights, or just 'no rules' groups where pilots are free to do what they please. Alternatively, ATC-based communities strive to more closely replicate day-to-day aviation operations.

Casual Aviation Communities are normally focused on the magic of flight and the fun of social interaction, offering mission-based activities, challenging group flights, or just 'no rules' groups where pilots are free to do what they please. Alternatively, ATC-based communities strive to more closely replicate day-to-day aviation operations.

Communities exist in several places. In MSFS and X-Plane, as with Infinite Flight, you’ll find some multiplayer communities built right into the simulator. For example, Infinite Flight has built-in multiplayer options that range based on how “serious” users wish to be, and there can be thousands of pilots flying online at the same time. There are also communities that span multiple simulators. Networks like IVAO, PilotEdge, VATSIM, and more use special software that connects your simulator to their network, allowing pilots from several different simulators to fly together.

Let Rob of Slant Alpha Adventures introduce you to the various types of online flying communities.

The ATC-based communities also support several sub-groups. For example, pilots on VATSIM can choose to join several Virtual Airlines, which provide pilots with assigned routes, schedules, and aircraft to fly. There are also groups like VATSTAR, designed specifically to offer pilot training through "shared cockpit" experiences.

Choosing the Right Community

The online aviation world has so much more to offer than the single player environments available in in 'single player' flight simulator modes. Without a doubt, there is a lot of choice. How do you pick what’s right for you?

Casual aviation communities tend to be more relaxed than realistic ATC communities. There, you’ll tend to meet people who are friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to help those new to the simulator or aviation itself. Participating in group events is a great way to meet new people, learn more about aviation, and start to see more of the online aviation world that thousands of flight simulator users around the world couldn’t live without.

By comparison, ATC-based communities tend to appeal more to the "realism" side of virtual flying. These communities tend to be more rules-based, with a steeper learning curve but offering a very rewarding experience.

The nice thing about flight simulation is that so many of these resources are totally free! You can join both IVAO and VATSIM for free to experience the differences for yourself. The more people you meet, the more you’ll learn about this vast new world of online aviation.

62% of simmers who fly online used VATSIM, making it the most popular online network of those in the survey. IVAO was second-place with 24%, followed by projectFly (14%), FSCloud (8%), and PilotEdge (8%).

Source: 2020 Navigraph FlightSim Community Survey

Based on member and partner input, we’ve categorized the communities that have reached out to us to help you decide which are the right ones for you:

Boston Virtual ARTCC
FSX MSFS P3D XP

Learning how to fly on VATSIM and free online ATC training programs.

I've Tried this Community: 129
IVAO
FSX MSFS P3D XP
I've Tried this Community: 121
Infinite Flight
IF

Learning how to fly, be an air traffic controller in Infinite Flight. Using the Infinite Flight developer, connect, and OpenTrack APIs.

I've Tried this Community: 90
POSCON
FSX MSFS P3D XP

Users seeking a smooth multiplayer experience with professional ATC services for free.

I've Tried this Community: 113
PilotEdge
FSX MSFS P3D XP

Accessing guaranteed ATC coverage on a schedule.

I've Tried this Community: 100
VATSIM
FSX MSFS P3D XP

Experiencing realistic ATC procedures around the world, ATC and pilot training, interacting with 100,000+ aviation enthusiasts for free.

I've Tried this Community: 357

Virtual Airlines

Virtual Airlines (VAs) are a huge part of online aviation, and an extremely popular way of staying connected with other members of the simulation world. Just like communities, Virtual Airlines come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll find simulations of major, international airlines and small, commuter operations. Some are complete with training, tests, and ranks while others are more casual.

Some Virtual Airlines use the same name and branding as real airlines, while others are entirely fictional. Often, they’ll even create their own liveries that only Virtual Airline pilots are able to download.

In many cases, Virtual Airlines operate independently. This means you can log VA flights while offline, on ATC-Based Communities, or while flying with Casual Aviation Communities.

In general, the concept of a Virtual Airline blends your own simulator with the airline’s operations. With a Virtual Airline, your flying has a “purpose”. You may be assigned certain routes or have the option to choose from available routes. In some cases, you’ll need to work your way up the seniority list before you can fly certain aircraft.

One of the popular VA software platforms is smartCARS, by TFDi Design. The software runs alongside your simulator to track the flying you do for Virtual Airlines you’re part of.

Using smartCARS, a VA pilot can track every flight. This helps give flying a “purpose”, and allows you to stay closely connected to other members of your VA.

Image source: TFDi Design Website

Normally, the VA will have you install free software that runs alongside your simulator to “log” your flight as part of their operation. In some cases, you can earn (or be docked) virtual dollars for completing flights. You’ll find Virtual Airlines regularly conducting group flights, special events, or just talking mid-flight in forums, Discord communities, in TeamSpeak, and the other social networking platforms that are common in flight simulation.

Because of the natural connection between ATC and airliner flying, you’ll find many Virtual Airlines active on the major flight simulation networks. In addition to a simple Google Search, a great place to find VAs is the search on the IVAO and VATSIM websites. TFDi Design, creators of the popular smartCARS software, also maintains a curated list of recommended Virtual Airlines.

Get Started

In some cases, you may be able to find or join a community from right within your simulator. However, most of the well-established groups will have their own websites with detailed instructions on how to get started. Often, communities that are external to your simulator will use special software to connect you to their network. You may also find communities using social tools like TeamSpeak or Discord, which allow you to connect and engage with other pilots outside of the simulator itself.

Because most communities are free to join, we encourage you to explore! Don't feel the need to restrict yourself to just one or two. By flying online, you’ll expose yourself to meeting new people, learning new techniques, and a world of others who are passionate about aviation. Whatever you fly, there’s a group out there who loves it just as much!

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