A Virtual Airline, 5 Years On.

Posted on 06/11/2014 by Nick Harding

After 5 years of Flight Sim UK, Nick Harding reflects on why it was started, staying true to its ethos and how it evolved in the Virtual Aviators group.

On the 10th November 2009 I launched Flight Sim UK with a simple ethos. A virtual airline that was available to all, based on real world routes but with more choice.

After being part of several Virtual Airlines over the years I found many things that could be improved upon and most fell into the categories of being Over Complicated, Over Controlling or about to shut down.

The decision for me to start Flight Sim UK was made during my time at the Flying Tigers Group, a great idea in principle (in fact many of Flight Sim UK's featured were based upon it) but after being a member for some time I just felt uncomfortable with it. Taking aside the constant disappearing of the web site for months on end and their endless desire to raise funds from their members, the whole ethos was built around the dictatorship model, which to be fair, is something the owner doesn't hide. But in my view a Virtual Airline should be listening to its members and working with them, after all, a Virtual Airline's member is its biggest asset.

So I set about creating Flight Sim UK. Having had previous experience with a single carrier virtual airline which was paid to close by its real world counterpart I was mindful of trademark and copyright law. The closing down of virtual airlines was still happening with the recent changing of easyJet Virtual to JetVA being a prime example. For that reason and many others I decided early on that it wouldn't be based on a single carrier with a branded web site, Flight Sim UK had to have its own identity and not be a copycat. I also didn't want to have different web sites for each airline in the group, everything had to be central, one web site, one login, one world. After all, you don't fly the web site!

It was decided that Flight Sim UK would be more of a group than than a Virtual Airline and bring together the networks of the best UK airlines. We started with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Easyjet, Monarch and Astreaus. Another aspect that I wanted to emphasise was the fact that I never wanted Flight Sim UK to be the biggest Virtual Airline, I wanted it to be the best. The two are very different things.

I was lucky to attract some good people early on who have been with the Virtual Airline from the start, they now form the senior management team. Over the years we grew steadily and introduced many new aspects to virtual flying such as RAF Flights, Bush Flying, Cargo and Classics. Some worked, some didn't. We also have never hounded forums requesting members or telling the world we are the best, opting instead for allowing members to find us based on reputation and a good strong brand. I also didn't want to have "entrance exams" and the like in place as it should be about good virtual aviators of all skill levels who want to learn or enhance their skills not who knows the most about flying at the time of registering.

As Flight Sim UK grew we added more airlines and started to look outside the UK with the introduction of Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Delta Airlines. I realised that we were no longer UK focused and it was this that prompted the name change to Virtual Aviators Group. Our 5th year of operation seemed the perfect time for doing this.

Our core values haven't changed however. Virtual Aviators is, and always will be open to all, at all skill levels. Whether you are brand new to flight sim or a seasoned veteran we have a network to test your abilities with the help and support you need.

We currently have over 6000 real world routes available, Our airlines include Air New Zealand, Aurigny Air Services, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Citywing, Delta Airlines, Dragonair, Easyjet, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Monarch, Virgin Atlantic. For those that want something different we also offer Cargo, Classics and Bush Flying.

I believe that Flight Simulation and Virtual Airline flying is a hobby not a job. For those reasons it should always be fun and accessible. Those have always been our core values and as long as I am at the helm they always will be. We welcome virtual aviators using FS9, FSX, X-Plane, Prepar3d and flightgear and will always do everything we can to support new platforms.

Looking to the future we are making our members the promise that we will always strive to improve Virtual Aviators by adding new networks, simplifying where possible (its about the flying not the paperwork!) and bringing in new features to enhance your virtual airline experience. In 2015 we will be adding Emirates and Qantas to begin with more on the cards for 2015/2016.

One thing I have noticed over the last few years is that many aspects of Flight Sim UK have been copied by other Virtual Airlines, even down to the wording of text on their web sites but given that imitation is the highest form of flattery I will accept that.
So it just remains for me to say that I have had a fantastic 5 years running this Virtual Airline and to still feel fresh and excited in doing so is testament to it, and its members. Every single member has their own role to play in what we have become and where Virtual Aviators will go in the future. Or to put it another way, I can’t wait to be writing the 10 year blog post!

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