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Why does this happen, and is there a fix.


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A couple of times in the last few weeks, I have seen a controller that was on duty for a relatively short time maybe 20 minutes or so , in a center position, so I figure that is a safe move to fly in that controllers area. I set up a flight plan, start P3D, load the aircraft, and set it at the starting airport. Then start V pilot , send the flight plan, and contact the controller. This takes about 10 minutes at the most. I contact the center for an IFR clearance, am told to stand by, and in a minute or two am told that the controller has an amended clearance. I copy the new clearance down ( original flightplan by the way was from Skyvector) program the changes into my GTN, and I announce I am ready to taxi. I taxi to the active for takeoff, and I hear the controller announce that he is closing in 10 minutes.

 

At this point, I tell the controller to cancel my flight plan, because frankly, it does nothing for me to fly with Unicomm. I have a good ATC program , PF3, which is pretty realistic that I use when there are no controllers on line. Now my question is, why is there not a way to tell a pilot that is setting up for a flight, than the controller on duty that he will interact with, is getting ready to sign off in a few minutes? I read posts on other forums, and that is a issue that crops up again and again, from people that try flying on Vatsim, that the controllers sign off within a short time of starting a flight.

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Hi Rob,

 

this is a frequently discussed topic, last time was last week. In Europe controllers tend to make reservations through a service called VATBOOK for pilots to estimate the chances of having online ATC. New Zealand is quite into bookings as well, Australia, too. The other way is to include your expected logoff-time in the "Controller ATIS" or "Controller Information". Both versions work.

 

Especially in North America this kind of service is rather unpopular, because the majority of ATCOs wish to have the freedom to leave at any given time, they do not want to commit themselves to time-frame. Needless to say, if you do not want to commit for a minimum time period, pilots will rather not fly in, to or from your airspace. You just confirmed the reasons. It is a bit odd to me, because such "freedom controllers" claim that they do not wish to commit to a minimum time-frame, because if there is no traffic, they want to logoff. Reminds of that famous cat biting into its own tail.

 

We will not be able to change the minds of our ATC-colleagues and they are free to do whatever they wish, but we can only reiterate the fact that bookings and/or information about the expected logoff-time will boost traffic. Pilots will vote with their feet, like you just did.

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  • Board of Governors

Rob, I share your frustration. In the USA, we strongly recommend that our controllers commit to AT LEAST one hour when they decide to log on and control. Although things in life do suddenly happen to necessitate a controller logging off earlier, these should be the exception, not the rule.

 

I'm a big fan, of clients that support it (e.g. VRC), of the .logofftime command, which automagically inserts your stated logoff time into the controller info. As Rob mentioned, controllers are free (and encouraged, at least in the US) to ensure their logoff time is visible in their controller information.

 

I agree only partially with the way Andreas has portrayed ATC intent in North America; although ATCs generally do not choose to "commit" days or weeks in advance to a schedule, as the subsequent feeling of commitment can sometimes, for some, seem more like work than a hobby, and in many cases folks don't know their availability days or weeks in advance, most ATCs enjoy being on for an hour or more, in most cases more, and in some cases significantly more. Plus, in the past, ATCs have been publicly attacked on the forums for logging off "early" when real world things come up necessitating that.

 

There's probably a sweet-spot balance we haven't found yet, but that we should all be aiming for. In any case, I agree with you that ATC service should generally carry a "loose", even if unspoken, commitment of at least an hour or two.

 

I'm not familiar with that offline ATC program; does it not allow you to begin a flight and then start the program/interaction while already engaged in the flight?

Don Desfosse
Vice President, Membership

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Come fly in Europe, you can check our reservations, they are respected in 99% of cases and if somebody has to leave before the announced time, then it was for a good reason, like problems with the internet/electricity (although a serious member of VATSIM will have a backup-generator in the garage...) or real world problems that obviously override our hobby.

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Rob, I share your frustration. In the USA, we strongly recommend that our controllers commit to AT LEAST one hour when they decide to log on and control. Although things in life do suddenly happen to necessitate a controller logging off earlier, these should be the exception, not the rule.

 

I'm a big fan, of clients that support it (e.g. VRC), of the .logofftime command, which automagically inserts your stated logoff time into the controller info. As Rob mentioned, controllers are free (and encouraged, at least in the US) to ensure their logoff time is visible in their controller information.

 

I agree only partially with the way Andreas has portrayed ATC intent in North America; although ATCs generally do not choose to "commit" days or weeks in advance to a schedule, as the subsequent feeling of commitment can sometimes, for some, seem more like work than a hobby, and in many cases folks don't know their availability days or weeks in advance, most ATCs enjoy being on for an hour or more, in most cases more, and in some cases significantly more. Plus, in the past, ATCs have been publicly attacked on the forums for logging off "early" when real world things come up necessitating that.

 

There's probably a sweet-spot balance we haven't found yet, but that we should all be aiming for. In any case, I agree with you that ATC service should generally carry a "loose", even if unspoken, commitment of at least an hour or two.

 

I'm not familiar with that offline ATC program; does it not allow you to begin a flight and then start the program/interaction while already engaged in the flight?

 

It seems that Vatsim could use more controllers and pilots in the US. Prior to starting with Vatsim for the second time ( first time was around a decade ago) that was my one concern, flying with no controllers anywhere. I bet there are pilots that frequently check who is online on Accomeap, Vattastic, etc, and when they finally see one in any area of the US, they probably begin setting up a flight in that area. After setting the flight up, when they see the controller log off 15 minutes later, it is not going to increase the popularity of Vatsim. Having a clear log off time somewhere that the pilot could look up before setting up a flight, would almost definetly increase traffic and usage on the network. I just joined the Boston Virtual ARTCC and the feature I liked most , is that they actually have a schedule and hours posted when there will be ATC .

 

I fly only GA aircraft, and it still takes me 20 minutes or so to get a FP ready , get out charts, preflight aircraft and contact ATC. You take someone flying a 737 or A 320, and now you have a 30 + minute time before you are ready to takeoff. If you have the controller sign off, or announce they are signing off as you are retracting your landing gear after lifting off , it is not going to encourage anyone to come back for another try. That is when many move on to ATC programs.

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Robert,

 

Two part question, so a two part answer...

 

Why does this happen

 

It happens for the same reason no one would expect you, if you are not retired, to go to work every day and not be paid for the time you spend there. The people who control here and the pilots who fly here do so because they share a p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]ion for simulated flight and simulated flight control. The "volunteer" card gets thrown out here to trump things a lot, but it's a pretty powerful trump card. Volunteer do just that...they volunteer and I don't think any rational person expects a volunteer to be there when they clearly don't want to be by logging off. Life gets in the way of volunteers and impacts when and where they appear.

 

is there a fix

 

Sure, pay the controllers for their time. That...my friend is never going to happen at VATSIM although PilotEdge has used that "fix" for quite a while now...but the pilots have to pay real cash to fly on PilotEdge to pay the controllers' salaries. Beyond that, there is another...and free...fix. Fly! Fly wherever you want whenever you want. The controller community notices when a place is getting traffic the same way you notice a controller is on line. Controllers don't want to stare at empty skies any more than you do. Give them traffic where you want to fly and before you know it controllers will slowly and surely start popping up to control, sometimes even in the most obscure of places.

 

KBOI seldom had an approach controller and rarely a Tower controller 9 years ago when I joined VATSIM. I actually see one there quite a bit now. It is near my hometown and I thoroughly enjoy flying in to and out of there. Have the controllers noticed the traffic there that I generate and followed the "If you build it they will come" principle? I don't know, but they are there and they weren't before. I never chase controllers, but I try as hard as I can to give them a reason to chase me.

 

I look at the whole thing like VATSIM is one great big US football game. I want to see the game (VATSIM) and I want to see it in person (Fly/Control), so I get tickets (join VATSIM). Once there I am just one of several thousand other fans (pilot/controller) who also wanted to see the game. Being at the game (VATSIM) is fun and I interact with other fans (pilots/controllers) around me. I don't try to talk to the fan across the stadium (virtual world) from me. What's this, my seat number was just called out and I won a team jersey (A controller is on line/A pilot is on line) just for attending a game I was going to attend anyway with no thought of winning a prize?

 

That's what that controller is to me...winning a team jersey just for being in the right seat at the right time. If I didn't win the jersey (fly in controlled airspace) that's okay to because it's all about the game...

 

Randy

Randy Tyndall - KBOI

ZLA I-11/vACC Portugal P4

“A ship is always safe in the harbor. But that’s not why they build ships” --Michael Bevington ID 814931, Former VATSIM Board of Governors Vice President of Pilot Training

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No, Randy, I do not agree. Why does it work differently on this side of the Pond? Usually you'll find controllers will get organized as a group, log on at around 8pm local time and stay on until at least 10pm, sometimes even 11pm local time. And we are not a gang of pensioners, but mainly students and regular employees with normal jobs. The one thing that we have understood and accepted is the fact that you will attract the most traffic by regular and consistent staffing of airports and airspaces. Boston (I just picked them out of quite a few other US-ARTCCs who do so as well) does a great job at this, too.

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As low level controller I would like to mention that I agree with Randy and For the vast majority, Don.

I see your posts here on a regular basis and would like to remind you of one small overlooked item.

The entire continent is the size of two US east coast artccs, I can easily understand how you generate the traffic to keep controllers busy.

I am, again, quite low level, but I bounce between two airports for the most part, NEVER under 1hr, as that is the expected standard at my ARTCC. Day before yesterday I went 4hrs without so much as a flyby.

As of this writhing I have been online for 1.5hrs and had a single acft land. Nothing spawned, not even for a radio check.

 

Today I also bought P3Dv4 , it actually doesn't crash on my computer. Where is my RECREATIONAL time better spent? Actively flying or web surfing in hopes someone might think of landing/taking off?

The concept of a schedule isn't new, but what if it worked both ways? How many times has some poor ground controller waited (hours) for the chance to practice and the fine pilot discos on landing?

 

What keeps me here are the new pilots, they know how to fly, now they want to try it with ATC. I have to do a lot of explaining and teaching. Normally it's not a problem. Meanwhile I await when others might have time to monitor or train me.

Sorry, the blade does cut both ways and I have heard this all before.

I got to the door!

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I cannot argue that statement or disagree with the method or logic, neither would I want to, Andreas.

 

The European "system" is very well-known and, I think, respected by the pilots and controllers...of VATSIM.

 

And that, my friend, is what I was trying to address, VATSIM. Not a region, or division, or ARTCC/FIR. I was speaking in generalities, with the exception of my one KBOI example. Only reason I brought that up is to explain what I meant when I said "Fly where you want to whenever you want to" because I believe such actions get noticed and responded to, the same way people have responded to Europe's well-respected reputation for providing consistent coverage.

 

I have had controllers "chase me" the same way pilots chase controllers. I have loaded up at "KXYZ" and seen an Approach controller on at "KABC", but no one near me. Several times that controller...same name...was suddenly APP_KXYZ or even "CTR_KZXX" and providing me service. I once was privileged enough to have my very own personalized "Light Up America" when I once took off from the Western US coast headed eastward and was amazed...and thrilled...as controllers popped in ahead of me just in time for me to be handed off...in the middle of the day in the US...in the middle of the week. Perhaps it was blind luck, but I cannot help but think someone was watching VATSIM, seeing where the traffic was going, and responding to that traffic. Controllers want traffic the same as pilots want controllers, maybe even more so.

 

And as I type this I wonder...what are you disagreeing with in the first place. My response to question 1, my response to question 2, or both? I suspect to question 1 because you mention pensioners, students, and workers. I was not trying to be regional, and in fact used wording that specifically avoided, regionalized answers...again, except for the KBOI example.

 

But since you bring up regions, let's compare, even though I admit it is not fair to do so. The North American Continent is three times bigger than the European Continent, if you do not include Russia's size. I just tried to a quick, but admittedly rough, count of the FIRs/ARTCC in each. Europe has approximately 25 Firs that I counted, and again, it was a very rough count, in an area the size of Texas. North America (three times that size) has by rough count approximately 21 FIRs/ARTCCs. A pilot flying in Europe is far more likely to "bump in to" a manned area than a pilot flying in North America and, in fact, all 25 or so European FIRs fit inside the two ARTCCs that cover Texas. And yet Europe has 1-1/2 times the population North America has. That alone suggests to me, but may in fact not be true at all, that the population pool to attract, train, and fill 25 areas in Europe is far greater than the available "pool" to fill 21 areas 3 times that size, so of course the potential to find controllers in Europe is greater. And I understand that the controller pool is a global thing and a member is not necessarily also a controller where they physically live, but I think you'll find that French controllers want to control in France...typically. German controllers in Germany, typically. English controllers want to control in England...typically. Etc, etc.

 

Please do not misunderstand me. I have lived in Europe, I have friends in Europe, I have family in Europe. I'm not in any way shape or form trying to imply that one continent is better than the other. I don't do that. I'm probably the most "apolitical" guy you will ever meet. I'm just suggesting, not stating for fact because I do not know, that through sheer size alone it is far more likely to have an uncontrolled experience in North America than it is in Europe.

 

I was merely suggesting to Robert that perhaps the way to change that, for any area in VATSIM, not just Europe and not just North America, but on VATSIM. Is to fly where you want when you want and try to attract controllers to you.

 

Okay, I'm through. Sorry to be so long winded, but there is one thing I have that we all share...the p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]ion.

 

Randy

Randy Tyndall - KBOI

ZLA I-11/vACC Portugal P4

“A ship is always safe in the harbor. But that’s not why they build ships” --Michael Bevington ID 814931, Former VATSIM Board of Governors Vice President of Pilot Training

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In response to Randy's response to the question of "is there a fix", I would put to you that one of the objects of any organisation is to organise the efforts of members, such that we get a better result working cooperatively than we would have as a free for all. An obvious way that this occurs is through events, but events occur for limited periods of time and other methods of organising people together should be considered.

David Zhong

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@Randy: almost on my way to work, got no time for a long reply. Just wanted to say that I never felt or understood your messages implying in way that the USA are greater than others or similar nonsense, no worries. My disagreement was about needing to pay controllers to provide service "at any time". When you look at Europe in the afternoon local time, you will find it mostly deserted, people go to work or study. We got a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes and it seems that there is a strong bond, so people actually get organized to provide extensive ATC service in the evenings. If you do this on a regular basis, you will find that pilots will rather plan flying to or from your airport/airspace. If you look at the fact that Germany has more than 80 million people living in it and we probably got a thousand active members, this is required to get services up and running on a regular basis.

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Just a follow up on my question. I have kept t a record of my Vatsim flights the last few days. I only launched most of the daytime flights when the controller had been on duty, according to Accomeap, less than 20 minutes.

 

Flight 1. Set flight up, filed FP, got clearance, taxied to active, controller signed off before I even took off.

Flight 2 Set Flight up, FP, clearance, taxied, took off, flew 15 minutes controller signed off, without even a mention of sign off.

Flight 3 this morning Asked controller if he was going to be on for awhile. He said " yes for awhile". Took off on a 50 minute flight. Half way though the flight , controller signed off.

 

I wasn't the only pilot getting ATC, sometimes there were 4 or 5 pilots in the area, all told to join Unicomm and 1200...

 

I decided, that daytime flights for me on Vatsim are not going to happen anymore. I will use PF3 during the day, and fly Vatsim in the evening where this issue rarely happens, from now on.

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So what about flight 4, 5, and 6? With all due respect, you are kind of starting to complain yourself out of rational argument. This environment represents a hobby or recreation as you will, of which nobody is time committed beyond the rules set forth by the organization. I have received it on both sides of the scope as well. I've had controllers go offline. I had two controllers drop during an event that I was utilizing. I have also sat as a controller for 2, 3, or 4 hours and had little to no traffic, while an adjacent uncontrolled area gets a steady flow of traffic. This isn't the environment to get ticked off about it and say I'm taking my ball and going home. No, there is no fix for this, but you have received many suggestions. I know you are a GA guy and fly in the US. So, really do you need a flight plan all the time? Do you even need ATC all the time? If you're flying IFR constantly in that Skylane, then you're removing half of the joy and freedom of GA. So, my suggestion, be realistic about your expectations. This is not real world flying. Enjoy the environment and the other traffic. You'd be amazed at how much flying you can do without the benefit of ATC. If it's present, then it is present, and utilize it in the manner of your choosing. You have concerns about the network which provides constant service because the coverage area doesn't represent your needs. So really, every suggestion that has been presented to you, you have a counter argument against. Maybe it's time to evaluate yourself at this point.

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The entire continent is the size of two US east coast artccs, I can easily understand how you generate the traffic to keep controllers busy.

Come again? https://i.imgur.com/cgvR4RY.png

 

In any case, bookings will not magically bring you a million pilots, but it will give your pilots so much more peace of mind when connecting. My sleep cycle is regularly shifted so that I'm awake in the US primetime for simming, and in 9 out of 10 cases when I go for a flight there, I'm analyzing logon times and controller stats in order to figure out how I can end up with ATC for most of my flight. I'm just happy that my excistence on this earth is plannable enough for me to know if I have got 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes available. It must be stressing to never have any clue how long you can do a given activity.

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I can attest that the European Controllers put our US counterparts to shame.

 

In regards to what? Ability? Time online?

 

That's a pretty bold statement without clarification.

Ryan Geckler - GK | Former VATUSA3 - Division Training Manager

VATSIM Minneapolis ARTCC | FAA Miami ARTCC 

Cross the Pond Planning Team

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I can attest that the European Controllers put our US counterparts to shame.

Substandard pilot quality is also far less rampant in Europe. An entire generation of European controllers got away with a “no charts, no service” mantra, which would get you drawn and quartered on this side of the Atlantic. Simmers also as a community seem to take the hobby a lot ore seriously over there.

Dhruv Kalra

VATUSA ZMP ATM | Instructor | VATSIM Network Supervisor

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have a case right now which I thought relevant to this thread. I want to do a flight from the east coast to Europe, and I see Toronto, Chicago and New York online. All three have been on for just over an hour, none have any indication of planned up-time in their ATIS. I just do not want to hear "unicom" calling up for clearance or taxiing out. Who do I pick? I have no flipping idea myself. Maybe wait and see if someone else comes on, so I know they won't go away.

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I have a case right now which I thought relevant to this thread. I want to do a flight from the east coast to Europe, and I see Toronto, Chicago and New York online. All three have been on for just over an hour, none have any indication of planned up-time in their ATIS. I just do not want to hear "unicom" calling up for clearance or taxiing out. Who do I pick? I have no flipping idea myself. Maybe wait and see if someone else comes on, so I know they won't go away.

 

Just a thought, but connect as send them each a private message asking how long they intend to stay on, then plan and fly from whichever is planning the longest? I routinely get asked the same or a similar question when controlling, and while it's never a definite answer it will give you an idea of how much longer the ATCo is prepared to spend online.

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Anchorage Deputy Air Traffic Manager

VATSIM Senior Supervisor (Team 1)

Have a question or concern? Email me at [email protected].

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