Where are you, Virtual Airlines…

Once upon a time, the skies of SL were filled with many pilots sporting planes with just a few different liveries. These liveries represented the virtual airlines (VA’s) that dominated SL for some time. They were a part of one or another group of people that were friends and companions that shared a love for flying, and friendship with each other.

The names of Vulture Air, Unity, Eagle, SLCS and a select few others were the leaders of the VA community. Pilots flew these labels with pride. Why? Besides the friendship and support of fellow pilots, you had the pride of having EARNED the label. No one just grabbed an airplane, slapped on a Vulture (or other) livery and started announcing flights. For most of the VA’s you had to prove yourself as an avid professional with a desire to be a part of something special.

A successful VA boasted the ability to host charters with fully crewed planes (pilot, copilot, flight attendant) and often even ground crews.

What Changed?

From observing the postings (or sometimes lack thereof) in Passengers of SL, the picture seems different today. While there are lots of liveries out there, it seems like the affiliation that made the virtual airlines great has been lost. Oh there are postings of flights. But any posting from most named “airlines” tends to be from the same pilot for a particular airline. In short, it appears that most want to do their own thing.

So What Happened?

Starting with the obvious, sometime near the end of 2017, flying in SL became almost as dangerous as space flight. It was almost even money whether a particular flight would make it from point A to point B. Further, it was a pretty safe bet that any flight with more than five passengers would lose at least one along the way (usually more). Region crossings became a throw of the dice.

Perhaps also, the fundamental makeup of SL has changed. Role play seems to be a dying practice. The things we enjoy as pilots mostly involve doing things that are not socially inviting. Sure we have some great organized flights, drives and cruises. But observe that these organized activities involve people together for a few moments at the start and then watch how many planes, boats and automobiles leave with only one occupant. In short, you’re still doing the activity alone.

Finally, as we all know, the first aircraft creator to really embrace the passenger community came with “baggage” that generated a grand split in the airline community. Of course that drama has mostly gone the way of the sopwith camel, but it took its toll, turned friends into enemies and overall made great entertainment for some of us “listening” to the lunacy that resulted in many of the aviation groups. Enough said about that.

But Star, Aren’t Region Crossing deaths the Biggest Cause?

Well I’d like to think so, except for one thing. For well over a year, even the once dreaded ATX-72 can now cross a region without breaking much of a sweat. The migration to AWS forced Linden Labs to finally acknowledge and fix the major bug that caused the death by crossing problem. In short, while region crossings still cause some hiccups, they are no longer the killer they once were. Flights can often end with the same number of avatars they started with. We don’t often get snapped back to the beginning as if we were caught in a reverse slingshot.

What Do We Want Now?

I’d love to see the VA’s once again dominate the skies. Anyone can hop in a plane and pretend to fly the thing with little regard to any semblance of order or realism. But hey you can do that in Flight Simulator.

The question to you, dear reader, is what would YOU like to see in your flying experience in SL? I’m sure many of you do indeed enjoy just the flying experience. And that is OK. SL is about doing what is fun for us. If you want more than that, please keep reading.

The Virtual Airline

What makes the difference between flying independently vs being a part of a VA? In just a couple of words, structure, association and a sense of purpose. Here are the finer points.

  1. Energized/enthused participants. Of course the most important part are the people. They need:
    1. An interest in aviation. More than just pilots, a VA needs flight attendants, ground crew and mechanics.
    2. A desire to achieve some degree of realistic flight.
    3. Willingness and desire to be a team player.
    4. Flexibility. The reality of SL is sometimes you might need to support a flight by serving a different role than normal.
  2. Structure. A well defined virtual airline will have several aspects of structure such as:
    1. Flight manual with operating rules.
    2. Crew certifications.
    3. Training.
    4. Professional looking liveries and uniforms.
    5. Leaders AND front line staff.
  3. Physical presence. Having counters at multiple airports not only gives legitimacy to the VA, it supports the airports that the VA actually needs to exist. You can’t have realistic flight without places to take off and land. And airports are not free.
  4. Talented people to do the background work. That means content creators for logos, plane liveries and other in world content, web site designers if a web presence is desired, creative writers to design professional grade operating manuals and rosters.

The above shopping list may seem grandiose. But it is an ultimate goal. Effectively it is the creation of a semi-structured role play group that has the entire span of SL as their playground.

Passengers: The Key Element

Of course, what good is a virtual airline if we do not have passengers that want to fly. They are out there. Many just gave up for the same reasons many of us did. Region crossings, lack of reliability, name your reason. But I submit that if the virtual airlines reacquire their greatness, the passengers will return. I’ve seen more than one solicitation for charter flights in Passengers of SL.

Final Thoughts

We can have a lot of small “mom and pop” airlines, or a few dominant carriers with close friends and colleagues as what once made SL aviation a grand community. Share your thoughts.

Blue Skies!