Within the flight simulation community, it is generally agreed upon that the two flight sim networks that stand above all the rest are IVAO and VATSIM. However, when looking to use a virtual flight simulator network, it can be difficult to decide between the two. While both of these networks are exceedingly similar in nature, there are some key factors that differentiate the two and may help you to decide which one you would prefer to use. With these simulators, you will have the ability to experience flight simulation at its finest and most realistic. Not only is the overall experience as similar to real life as possible, so are the procedures that each pilot will have to carry out. Whether you would like to fly as a pilot or train by conducting air flow traffic, the following in-depth guide should, at the very least, help you to understand what these two networks are really all about.

What is a Flight Simulator Network?

Before continuing, it’s important to understand exactly what a flight simulator network is. In essence, these networks give avid flight enthusiasts or anyone that wants to train with these systems, a means to do so over an internet based network. This network allows users to join and fly with others, using chat to direct other pilots and members to undertake certain tasks. Both of these programs are even used to teach pilots-in-training, giving users the ability to speak directly to air traffic control, a communication skill that is essential for any real-life pilot. As these networks are basically up for 24 hours a day, any person that has the correct software can use the flight simulation program at any time they want.

Software Maturity

The first thing to look at in regards to both the IVAO and VATSIM networks is their software maturity. In regards to VATSIM, their available software is both extensive and increasingly realistic. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it’s so realistic that the software is actually being utilized for pilots-in-training. However, it should be noted that the available software has reached such a complex nature that it can be extremely difficult for non-pilot users to properly adjust to, due to the fact that the procedures, flight plans and other scenarios are almost exactly like an actual pilot would encounter when controlling an aircraft.

The software that is compatible with that of the VATSIM network includes vPilot for FSX and Squawkbox for Microsoft Flight Simulator, as well as a variety of other options, depending on which program is used. For the air traffic controller portion, the available clients include VRC, SPARC, ASRC and Euroscope. There are also a wide range of voice software and data connections that can be used in combination with this software.

In comparison, IVAO utilizes its software a bit differently than VATSIM. For one, the software that is used with IVAO is based on their own in-house developments. Despite this, the software is exceedingly realistic and holds its own against the more varied options of VATSIM. Users must use whichever flight simulator plugin they have, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, and then they can download the IVAO Virtual Pilot Client, the IVAO Virtual ATC Client and the IVAO Virtual X-Plane Client.

Coverage Areas

As for coverage, both IVAO and VATSIM strive to deliver worldwide coverage. On that front, both networks are very similar; IVAO covers 55 active divisions all throughout the world. These divisions generally represent countries, which range all the way from Indonesia to the United States. The lowest amount of registered members in any country is 145, while the highest is just near 20,000. However, and the same holds true for VATSIM, all pilots are given the opportunity to fly within whichever division they feel like (or across for long-haul flights).

As for VATSIM, they operate under six regions, each operating under slightly different protocols. These regions include Africa/Middle East, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America. Pilots have the ability to fly with other pilots in each of these zones. These regions can be further divided into specific divisions, which are based off of corresponding countries. In fact, the Africa/Middle East region alone covers the South Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, Israel and Middle East divisions.

Network Capacity

Network capacity for both IVAO and VATSIM covers a wide range of variables. For instance, the IVAO network has 143,000 members, while the VATSIM network is comprised of over 200,000. Despite this large number, they both average below 1,000 simultaneous members. Every airport on both networks has a capacity of a certain amount of takeoffs and landings that can happen per hour. This number is constantly adjusted due to a myriad of factors, such as terminal passenger facilities, ATC limitations and more. While the maximum capacity can really be any number, the typical capacity per airport lies between 20-40 departures/landings per hour.

Training Options

While neither VATSIM or IVAO require their pilots to undergo training before flying, it is important to note that anyone looking to become an air traffic controller will need to undertake mandatory training before being allowed to open a controlling position with VATSIM (IVAO allows anyone to control small airports without any training). Aside from this, every member of these networks does have access to specific forms of training.

In regards to IVAO, members can gain access to a variety of ATC and pilot ranks upon taking training exercises and passing a number of different exams. These exams will be based on procedures, regulations and scenarios that pilots would encounter in real-world aviation situations. There are 7 primary rankings that an ATC member can obtain, with an extra special rating and honorary rating. As for pilots, the same holds true. Members will receive a badge based on the title they receive. The top badge is given for an Airline Transport Pilot and is denoted with gold wings. To receive this badge, members must put in a minimum of 750 training hours, as well as completing both theoretical and practical exams.

When looking at VATSIM, their training methods and options are largely similar to IVAO, though with a few key differences. As mentioned previously, those that want to open their own controller positions in air traffic control must undergo mandatory training, of which their are 5 basic training ranks, including Ground controller, Tower controller, TMA controller, Enroute controller and Senior controller. While training isn’t required for pilots, it is available. Within this training program, VATSIM offers 10 ratings, though only 6 are currently active, while the other 4 are incoming. These ratings extend from P0 to P9. P5 is the current highest rating and stands for VATSIM Advanced IFR Pilot.

User/Pilot Reviews

To have a better understanding of which network offers the most, it’s essential to look at the user and pilot reviews for both, as it helps to gain direct knowledge from those that have experienced these networks. In all honesty, both programs have ascended to the top of the flight simulator network options due to the fact that they have built a strong reputation among users and pilots. However, there are differences that can best be attributed to the type of member a person wants to be and what that person may be looking for.

VATSIM is also considered by many pilots to have a higher difficulty barrier for entry, due to their more realistic approach to flying, while IVAO is a little more loose with its procedures and terminology. VATSIM has the better software, due primarily to a larger variety. Users have also found that the ATC quality is much higher with VATSIM, as members are required to undergo training.

If you are a beginner pilot and want to ease your way into flight simulation, the slightly less realistic scenarios and quicker approval procedures make IVAO an attractive network option. The best aspect of both is that becoming a member is entirely free of charge. Overall, the only thing that matters when someone is considering IVAO or VATSIM are the specific qualities that they themselves are looking for in a flight simulator network.

To learn more, visit the official VATSIM and IVAO websites. 

Lorenzo Aiello

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