Beginners Guide to Flying on VATSIM
By Dave Gorman

The Pilot's Perspective:

VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic SIMulation) is an online flying organisation. It trains and provides air traffic controllers (ATCs) across the whole world, and its servers are open to anyone who wants to fly on it. All kinds of flights can, and do, happen on VATSIM, every day of the year, from quick domestic hops in a turboprop to sightseeing GA flights to sub- and super-sonic trips across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. VATSIM caters for all of this and more, using proper ATC terminology and procedures to provide an environment which is truly "as real as it gets".

All of the complex procedures and strict regulations do have a downside though. Many new pilots are nervous about flying on VATSIM and unsure of where to start. Hopefully this guide will encourage more pilots to get into the world of online flying and take their flight simulation experience to the next level. It will explain how to join VATSIM, software you will need, and basic ATC phraseology and procedures.

How to join VATSIM:

Joining VATSIM is easy enough. On their homepage, http:/ simply click the "New Pilots Start Here" link on the left-hand side. It will take you the the Pilot Resource Centre and give you some advice on how to behave on the network. Once you've read it click the link at the bottom of the page. It is recommended that you read the VATSIM Rules & Regulations and the Code of Conduct. You must be 13 or older to join VATSIM!

The server will also not let you sign up with free email addresses such as @hotmail and @yahoo addresses. Make sure that your anti-spam controllers are set to allow addresses or you will be unable to sign up. After you have filled out the register form and pressed the Register button, your VATSIM user ID will be displayed and your password should be emailed to you.

Before you fly:

Before you set off on your first online adventure, it's a good idea to make sure that you know how to handle your aircraft safely and efficiently. You should be able to fly SIDs and STARs and be able to navigate using VORs and NDBs ("Direct GPS" routes are not allowed). Before flying, you will be required to file a flight plan detailing your route, cruise altitude/speed, departure time, arrival time, etc, so have some way of knowing these (either the FS flight planner or other software discussed later in the article). Also, the controllers like you to have the necessary charts (especially ground charts) for your airports. European charts can be obtained from , but a good poke around on Google should find you charts for almost anywhere. Print them out and keep them somewhere after you've flown, so you won't have to waste time and ink getting them next time too. If flying VFR, the controller will usually require you to have VFR charts (detailing landmarks and so on) of the area in which you are flying.

What you should be able to do on VATSIM:

Air Traffic Controllers will be patient with you if you tell them that you are new to online flying. However, as a bare minimum you should be able to:

* Basic piloting skills: you should be able to taxi, take off, maintain an assigned heading, altitude, and airspeed, navigate between airfields in VFR flight, navigate from VORs and NDBs in IFR flight, fly a traffic pattern and know how to hold at a waypoint, land on an assigned runway, and park the aircraft.

* Understand the difference between VFR flight and IFR flight.
* Understand basic ATC phraseology.
* Tune to different frequencies and communicate with a controller.
* Use and respond to private messages.
* Follow instructions from VATSIM controllers.
* Get clarification from a controller if you do not understand something.
* Connect to the network and file a flight plan.
* Behave in a sensible and respectful manner at all times.

Pointers on air traffic procedures:

* Below 10,000ft (FL100), your Indicated Airspeed must be under 250kts, unless otherwise stated by the controller.

* Landing lights should not be on above 10,000ft (FL100). They should be switched on under this altitude.

* Strobe and landing lights should not be turned on on the ground until you are on the active runway.

* Do not pause, use slew mode, or use time acceleration in controlled airspace (in fact it's a good idea not to use time acceleration at all as it will mean you arrive early and thus confuse the controller who wasn't expecting you for another 3 hours) without ATC permission.

* Holding speed is normally 220kts IAS.

* If a controller assigns you a speed, you MUST comply with it as soon as possible, or you run the risk of getting too close to other aircraft. Use the speed brakes if necessary.

* If there is no controller online, you should monitor and announce your intention on UNICOM, frequency 122.800. If the controller comes online whilst you are in his/her airspace, you should contact them immediately.

* TCAS outranks ATC; If your TCAS tells you to climb or descend, do it and then tell the controller that you are in a "TCAS climb" or "TCAS descent".

* Simulations of emergency situations are not forbidden. However a controller has the right to deny the simulation of an emergency, and the pilot must either comply or disconnect from the network. Simulations of hijackings are strictly forbidden.

* Do not use the active ATC frequency for private conversations; use the private chat function for this.

* Before you connect to the network, make sure that you are at a gate and not on a taxiway or runway. If you have connected on top of someone else’s aircraft, then use Slew or the Go To Airport function to move – they were there first.

Pointers on using voice on VATSIM:

* Using voice on VATSIM is optional. However it greatly increases the realism and saves time spent typing out messages.

* You should know what you're going to say before you say it. Keep your voice communications quick and simple.

* Except for airline callsigns (e.g "Speedbird"), call signs on VATSIM (such as G-MUTH) should be given phonetically (Golf Mike Uniform Tango Hotel). See below for my phonetic alphabet and pronunciation.

* Set up your microphone before logging onto the network. Squawkbox users can do this before logging on, through the Options menu. Use the Calibrate Microphone feature to make sure that the microphone is working and is not distorted. With regards to microphone position (on a headset), I find that it is best to have the microphone just out of your sight, that way it does not get distorted by being too close to your mouth and it does not get hit by your lips or chin.

* If you do not understand what a controller has said, let them know! Don't do anything until you are sure of what ATC wants you to do - don't try to bluff your way out of it because it might well come back to bite you later.

* Do not respond with “Roger” to a question requiring a yes “Affirm” or no “Negative” response.

* Do not respond to “Stand By”

* Do not read back wind direction and speed in takeoff and landing clearances.

* If you are unsure of any ATC phraseology, check out article 111 in VATSIM's Pilot Resource Centre:

The Phonetic Alphabet and Pronunciation:


Phonetic Equivalent Phonetic Pronunciation
A  Alfa
 AL fah
B  Bravo  BRAH voe
C  Charlie  CHAR lee or
 SHAR lee
D  Delta  DELL tah
E  Echo  ECK oh
F  Foxtrot  FOKS trot
G  Golf  GOLF
H  Hotel  ho TELL or
 hoh TELL
I  India  IN dee ah
J  Julliett  JEW lee ETT
K  Kilo  KEY loh
L  Lima  LEE mah
M  Mike  MIKE
N  November  no VEM ber
O  Oscar  OSS cah
P  Papa  pah PAH
Q  Quebec  keh BECK
R  Romeo  ROW me oh
S  Sierra  see AIR rah  or
 see AIR ah
T  Tango  TANG go
U  Uniform  YOU nee form or
 OO nee form
V  Victor  VIK tah
W  Whiskey  WISS key
X  X-ray  ECKS RAY or
 ECKS ray
Y  Yankee  YANG key
Z  Zulu  ZOO loo
0  Zero  ZEE RO
1  One  WUN
2  Two  TOO
3  Three  TREE
4  Four  FOW er
5  Five  FIFE
6  Six  SIX
7  Seven  SEV en
8  Eight  AIT
9  Nine  NIN er

Additional tips:

* The best experience can be gained by using a complex add-on such as one by PMDG or Level-D, allowing you to accurately fly SIDs and STARs, hold, give position updates and much more that is done in the real world but is nearly impossible on a default aircraft.

* Don’t try to store everything the controller says to you in your head – write it down! This is especially important with IFR and approach clearances, and greatly reduces your workload.

* Use your common sense. If you see an aircraft too close to you when you are on approach, make your life easier by going around before you are 10ft above the runway and the controller has had to tell you to.

* Controllers are normally right, but they’re only human and can make mistakes. Don’t automatically agree with everything they tell you – check it first. For example, if your departure route involves your airplane getting friendly with a mountain, let ATC know.

* Have fun! VATSIM may be as realistic as it gets but remember it’s still not the real world and the number one priority is that it’s enjoyable. 

Making a Route:

There are several ways to find a route of flight for use on VATSIM. One way is to use the FS flight planner, and to print out the navigation log and enter your airways and waypoints in the File a Flight plan screen. However, most pilots will prefer to use outside software or websites to find their route, as they are quicker and easier, can be copied and pasted, and generally give better routes than the FS planner. A program called Vroute can be used for flight planning: it has a large database of flight plans built into it, can tell you which real-world airlines operate that flight, and can provide a printable flight card with your route on it. It also has a feature allowing the plan to be filed directly to VATSIM. Vroute will be discussed in more detail later in the article. Another utility for flight planning is , a free website allowing you to find a flight plan between two airports, between two flight levels, and from a specific AIRAC. It can then be copied and pasted for use on VATSIM.

Typing out your route:

If you are unable to copy and paste your route into the File a Flight plan form, you will have to type it out manually. It’s a lot easier than it sounds – but to save time you should understand airways and direct to waypoints. A specific airway might have 10 waypoints in it, for example, but if you just enter the airway and then the last waypoint in the airway that you want to fly to, it will be understood that you will overfly all of the previous waypoints. Routes should be filed like this: waypoint (airway) waypoint, e.g.: NOMBO Y161 RIDAR

If you wish to fly directly to a waypoint that is not on an airway, or you wish to fly directly to a waypoint on an airway without having to follow the airway, put “DCT” instead of the airway name: waypoint DCT waypoint, e.g.: PELIG DCT SHA. It is important to understand the difference between flying via an airway and routing direct to a waypoint.

Filing a Flightplan:

Flight plans can be filed through the VATSIM website, Squawkbox, or addon software such as Vroute (discussed later in the article). When filing a flight plan, you will need to enter:

* The type of flight; VFR or IFR

* Your call sign (make it realistic, strange call signs (e.g DAVE1123) may not be allowed).

* The aircraft type (give the ICAO code, eg B735, B744, A320, DH8C etc)

* Your cruising speed in TAS

* Your departure airport

* Your Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) in UTC.

* Your cruising altitude

* Your route of flight (see above)

* Your destination airport

* Your estimated time enroute

* Voice capabilities

* Pilot’s Remarks (it is a good idea to say that you are new to VATSIM here)

* The amount of fuel on board, in flying time

* Your alternate airport

* Your name and home base

* Your VATSIM ID and password

After you have filed your flight plan, you can look it up or cancel it by entering the flight number, your ID and your password.

Software for Flying Online:

* Squawkbox 3: Squawkbox is the piece of software that allows you to connect your FS to the VATSIM network. It is launched from the Modules menu in FS, or can be launched from the Start Menu if you are using another screen or are connecting to the network via another computer. Instructions on how to use Squawkbox are available at

Squawkbox is all that you really need, but also recommended are:

* Vroute: Vroute tells you who is online at the present time, shows bookings for ATC positions, gives inbound and outbound flight details, and provides maps of regions and countries showing who is connected to the network (whether ATC or pilot). Vroute also allows you to find and file flight plans, as well as showing you which real-world airlines operate that route. It’s a fantastic piece of software, download from

* EURoute: EURoute was replaced by Vroute; it’s basically Vroute except it doesn’t look as good and does not tell you who is online – it just lets you find and file flight plans.

* ServInfo: Servinfo was also replaced by Vroute. It is basically the same except it does nt allow you to find and file flight plans – it just tells you who is connected to the network. Available from Avsim.




  Mutley says.. . . ..

Thanks to Dave for writing this invaluable guide, if you need more help then enquire in our forums.


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