Virtual Airlines

How to start a virtual airline

By April 11, 2016 No Comments
virtual airline

Introduction

The virtual aviation enthusiasts are growing each day, with more people falling in love with the world of aviation. After all, who wouldn’t? Virtual Airlines have played a prominent role in developing communities where enthusiasts with similar ambitions can unite with one common goal: Enjoy their hobby. Some decide to branch off in their own venture after developing their own vision of a virtual airline community. So, we decided to put together a guide that introduces the up and coming virtual airline owners to the process of starting a virtual airline.

In short

Here are the things you’ll need to launch a virtual airline:

  • A Website(Incl. Domain, Hosting, Design)
  • Tracking Software
  • Name + Logo
  • Permission to use trademarked materials from the real airline(If Applicable)
  • Community Software
  • Dedication & Time Investment
  • Fleet + Liveries for Flight Simulator
  • Staff
  • Operational Handbook

This article will touch on only the green items in the list.

A few things to think about.

Before launching a virtual airline, there are a few things that you want to plan out. The biggest decision is deciding whether your community will be based off of your imagination, or a real airline. In my five years in the community, the biggest mistake I’ve seen was premature decisions of picking a real airline far from home that you have little to no interest in just because it will get you pilots. Let me reiterate that this is a mistake. You may get a lot of pilots, but you’ll likely not enjoy it yourself after some time passes. This will eventually reflect on the company when you become inactive. In simple words, the activity of a virtual airline relies on the people that make the key decisions.

If you’re basing your virtual airline out of a real-world company, think of the legal consequences of copyright and rights of usage. Due to the nature of the community that surrounds virtual airlines, you will more than likely have negative repercussions if you do not follow certain guidelines. Now, we are not lawyers however these are the popular approaches to legally operating a virtual airline based on real companies:

  • Obtaining Permission from the airline
    • Not all airlines will even bother with responding to your inquiry.
    • Yet, your best option.
  • Not using the same name or logo, but same livery and colors.
    • The logo is Trademarked, so by using your own you’re good to go.
    • The name is normally copyrighted, so by using your own you’re good to go.
    • For the livery, as long as it is clear that it is a game based livery, you’re good to go.
    • Example: Instead of JetBlue use VirtualBlue

If you’re basing your virtual airline out of fiction, know that you will likely have to invest more time and (maybe) money, having to get the livery designed, deciding hubs, and routes. The legal hassle: None.

Think “Community”

The virtual airlines that last are those with a sturdy community that relies upon it. It is an utmost priority to build up the community that surrounds your virtual airline from day, and keep it consistently active. The popular gateways are Teamspeak, and Forums. Other virtual airlines have come up with unique ways to connect their community via a built-in social network into the pilot system, or monthly contests. A big mistake is to think that the virtual airline will grow itself. It won’t. As a matter of fact, the only thing that will push the virtual airline to grow is you.

Budgeting – How much do virtual airlines cost?

There are two costs to a virtual airline. The currency/monetary cost & The effort/time cost. A successful virtual airline owner will have their duties come very close to holding a part time job. They will likely be active on the project on a daily basis, ensuring activity is high and operations are -… well, operational. The monetary cost of a virtual airline can range as low as USD $0 to an average of USD $500. Because everyone’s goals are different, there is not a maximum cost. Most of the cost will go into website design, tracking software, hosting, and advertising.

It is a norm within Virtual Airline Owners that using a free host, free website, and a free tracking software can be regarded as a setback or even a lower tier of virtual airlines with a low success rate. Now, the allegations are partially true. It just so happens that when a virtual airline owner spends money on their virtual airline, they feel an obligation to uphold their activity and have a natural sense of responsibility. Does this mean that someone who doesn’t spend a cent on their virtual airline will automatically fail? Absolutely not.

The Tracking Software

You’ll need a tracking software in order to keep up with your virtual airlines operations, and track pilot flights. There’s always the option of just having a simple form on the website, however that could prove to be quite cumbersome and inaccurate. These tracking softwares are called “ACARS.” There are at least three or four variations of ACARS, each created by their own developers. Consider a tracking software that is customized to your virtual airline – This ties into branding and trust.

We recommend the following custom ACARS:

https://tfdidesign.com/smartCARS.php (Recommended)
$69.99 USD / Or $4.99 for 11months + $14.99 setup
Great User Interface. Becoming the most popular. Updated Often.

We recommend the following free ACARS:

kAcars(Free)
http://fs-products.net/index.php

The Website Software

This will be used on your website to allow pilots to create accounts, bid on flights, and even connect with the community. The most popular software is phpVMS. Here’s the description straight out of their website:

phpVMS is the most popular, free, virtual airline software, with support for various ACARS applications (kACARS, FSACARS, XAcars, FS Flight Keeper, and FSPassengers), AJAX-driven administration panel, complete with financial reports, schedule management and various other features designed for realistic operation of your virtual airline.

phpVMS can be downloaded on phpVMS.net

The Website Design

phpVMS will come with a default design, with a limited number of pages. It’s highly recommended to obtain a a custom website design. The custom design will be unique to your virtual airline and will represent your community for every pilot that’s a member of your virtual airline. You might ask yourself if this is something that you can do yourself. The answer is Yes…If you’re willing to study HTML, CSS, JS, as well as read a short book on User Interface Design. If you’re that committed, by all means – Do it.

Now, there are free “Themes” that you can use for phpVMS. Most can be found on the phpVMS forums found here. These themes come with installation instructions and are very easy to setup. However, they tend to be very common around the community so chances are you will find another virtual airline running the skin. Also, due to the nature that the design is free, it will likely not have any form of support. That means that if you run into a problem with the design, help is dependent on the developer’s motivation to help you and not your need.

The best alternative is to hire a company to handle the website design for you.  Our friend, Sava Markovic is a talented virtual airline website designer that we recommend! You can learn more about the packages he offers here.

The Domain

The domain is the address that a user will type into the address bar of a browser to access your website. Example: AirTransatVirtual.com or EmiratesVirtualAirlines.com

Here are some general advice on picking a domain name:

  • Keep it short
  • Use a popular TLD(.com, .net, .org) | Avoid the use of regional TLDs(.fr, .us, .en)
  • Ensure the word “Virtual” or a variant is somewhere in the domain
  • Avoid using “-” symbols in the domain name.
  • Always register your domain name at a popular registrar not the same as your host.
  • Make sure it is pronounceable (ie. Avoid “hafva.com” or “pneva.com”)

Need advice on a domain name? Contact us, and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

 

 

 

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