In flight sim terms, there are few areas that see as many virtual visitors as the Alps. The mountainous terrain which stretches from Switzerland in the east though to Italy in the south and skirts the southern border of Germany in the north. In the middle though, sits Austria and some of the prettiest flying scenery around. In airport terms, Austria boasts several large airports. Vienna may get the top spot, and Innsbruck may get the biggest challenge, but Salzburg sits between the both and offers visitors beautiful scenery and a challenging approach in equal measures. It's also an airport that has been missing in FSX for far too long. Fortunately, Digital Design have been working hard to create a new Salzburg for us to enjoy. My only concern is my ability to keep any mention of the 'Sound of Music' out of the review. So, challenge accepted.
Salzburg is available from simmarket as a download only, and what a download. It is priced at €24.90, or the equivalent on currency cross rates. Split into three different packages, the main installer exe file and two separate scenery bin files. The download totals nearly 4GB. Based on that alone, you should get the idea that this could be more than your average airport.
With the package downloaded, installation is fairly easy with options to install into FSX, P3D V1, V2 and V3 (though no option for FSX-SE). Once the main installer has run, you then have to install SODE or the Sim Object Display Engine. This handy little addon is beginning to be used by several developers to accurately place autogen, animate jet bridges and a host of other things, all designed to lower VAS by running outside the sim as a separate program.
Having visited Salzburg, I was fairly familiar with Austria's second busiest international airport as well as the city itself. So I was rather happy to see the airport in the sim looking so much like the real thing. It's clear from the outset that the airport is only one part of the scenery. The area surrounding the airport along with the city itself has had a massive, and much needed makeover. I'm already drooling over what I'm seeing. From the south of the airport all the way to the north, and from west to east, the whole Salzburg area has been remodelled and now matches the real thing much more closely. However it's best to start with the airport itself, and work outwards.
Let's start with a few facts. For nine months of the year, Salzburg is fairly quiet. The main terminal serves the community well and there's no worry or panic. Then around Christmas, the pace picks up. Christmas markets draw in thousands of visitors. However, it's January when things start to get serious as the ski season swings into action. Then Salzburg airport has to open up Terminal 2 to cope with the excess number of passengers. Such is demand that T2 has a special area just to check in your skis.
Now that a little background has been added, it's time to look around the airport. From the outset, this is a very nice re-creation outside the terminal, the car park and bus stops are faithfully reproduced. Little touches like the advertising signage and terminal signs all add to the feel of the place. In a big change since my last visit, is the new control tower, now finished and open for business. Again this is extremely well modelled, and it sets the tone for the rest of the airport.
Airside, and it's a huge improvement from the default. The taxiway textures are high quality whilst around the main terminal areas there are little things here and there that all add to the quality feel of a premium airport addon. To the right of the main terminal is the main general aviation office, with the main GA parking area sitting behind it. There are a few nice static aircraft to be found there. The nicest static model though can be found up behind Terminal 2. There you'll find the original (or at least a good copy) of the first Salzburg terminal, or shed as its more commonly known, and parked next to it is Austrian Airline's first DC-3. She's based at Salzburg and amazingly, still in working order, with the odd passenger flight or two every year. The model in the sim is rather nicely done as well, so you get to enjoy the old girl in all her splendour.
Moving across the runway and you'll find two glass hangars. These hangars belong to Salzburg's own Red Bulls, and contain a veritable treasure trove of unusual aircraft from the DC-6 to a P-38 and lots of other bits and pieces like old F1 cars. Whilst you can't see into the hangars in the sim and enjoy the spoils, they're perfectly rendered and, like elsewhere, look great.
As mentioned earlier, it's not just the airport that's received a much needed makeover. The whole city has been revamped and remade, and the transformation isn't just above ground either. The Innsbrucker Bundesstrasse which passes underneath the runway has been modelled, you can see the tunnel entrance either side of the airport, and this adds another small but important feature which increases the realism factor. To the north of the Runway 16 threshold, there's the large Europark shopping centre, a football stadium, and so much more, all modelled and with a level of detail that's hard to beat. The roofs of the large shops around the shopping area can be read clearly, like Bauhaus and the ubiquitous IKEA.
Moving into the old town, things get even better. Salzburg's famous fortress, set on top of a small but imposing hill in the centre of town, has been fully remade, and it's about time too. The default model is horrendous, being scaled up to an unbelievable size. The new model is better scaled, more in keeping with the surroundings. The old town is a fairly congested place and Digital Design have done a fantastic job of re-creating the narrow streets and imposing buildings which make up the old town area. Just compare to the default and be wowed.
With so much on offer here, I expected frame rates to be in the dumps. I was wrong. Using FSX and the PMDG 737 NGX, I was surprised to discover a steady FPS of around 30 at the gate, dropping to just 25 on the takeoff roll. At night things get a bit lower, but the overall result was impressive, especially if you consider that was at a resolution of 5760 x 1080. On a single screen at 1920 x 1080, my FPS remained constant at 30 FPS locked. Even the addition of heavy cloud and snow did little to dent the figures. In P3D V3, performance was equally as good if not better, though given that both my GPUs were now running, that's not surprising.
I was also impressed with the scenery blending. Using Orbx Global, Vector and OpenLC, Salzburg blended perfectly with the surrounding scenery regardless of what season it was. Even with just default and Orbx global textures, the result was the same.
Finally, there are the night textures. Simply put, it's stunning. With the apron floodlights given that 'volumetric' look, and crisp, clean night textures on the terminal, the night lighting is just as good as the rest of the package.
Salzburg has long been neglected. This scenery set out to change that, and by damn it has. The airport has never looked better and the city, well, even when I was using Aerosoft's Austria Pro X, the city didn't look as good as it does here. There are just a few bugs. The first of which has more to do with the use of SODE than the scenery itself. When used with other airports which also use SODE, there can be problems if the other airports aren't using the current version of SODE. Aerosoft's Rome for example suffered a loss of jet bridges after Salzburg was installed. Airports using old versions of SODE will need recompiling to the latest version to be comparable. Users of GSX are also seeing issues with Salzburg. Hopefully these bugs can be ironed out.
My only other gripe with Salzburg is its wonderful fortress. Personally, I find it just a bit too dark a colour. The real thing is rather white and is clearly visible from the airport, but it's quite difficult to spot here. As I say though, it's a personal preference really, and not worth knocking a point or two off.
For GA pilots, Salzburg offers you a great base to explore the Alps, with the beautiful Zell Am See to the south and of course, Innsbruck to the west. Digital Design have done a great job here, it almost as if the hills are alive. Dammit!