A virtual airline (VA) is a dedicated hobby organization that uses flight simulation to model the operations of an airline. Virtual airlines generally have a presence on the internet, similar to a real airline. There are over 100 virtual airlines of significance currently active in the internet (supporting a number of flightsims), with thousands of participants involved at any one time each using different simulator platforms.
Virtual airlines were started to give a sense of purpose to activities conducted within a flight simulator. This basic premise has evolved over time, along with available technology, to provide increasing levels of immersion but always with the same core purpose. When combined with increasingly powerful personal computers, advancing flight simulation software, and communications networks, virtual airlines are often able to provide compelling, realistic, experiences similar to operations inside a real airline. Virtual airlines also provide an avenue for members to gain access to additional content, such as aircraft and scenery, for use with their simulator. The appeal varies; for younger members, virtual airlines provide a sandbox environment where they can experience the corporate environment of commercial business in the airline industry, without the risk of financial loss. These organizations also provide an outlet for those who are interested in aviation but unable to fly themselves in real life due to financial, health, or other reasons. Most of all, its one step closer to enthusiasts feeling more involved in an airline environment and share their interests with others. Virtual Airlines also benefit the flight simulator community by providing valuable services such as ATC, events, and general help and knowledge.
There are several elements that are common across many virtual airlines:
- A website as the focal point of the community
- Internet forum where discussion and social interaction can occur
- Customized livery that users can download together with aircraft and install in their flight simulator
- Route schedules for members to fly in their simulators
- Multiplayer events, often on a game network such as VATSIM or IVAO
- Less common elements include:
- An Online database for recording and reporting flights and membership statistics
- Dedicated game server hosting to provide private areas for members to complete flights
- Award, rank and recognition systems
- Voice over Internet Protocol servers for members to communicate freely by voice