The Flight Simulation Community
The flight simulation community is disjointed. A plethora of organisations, websites, Facebook pages and You Tube channels &c. exist for the flight simulation community internationally. These range from hardware and software developers and commercial vendor outlets through to professionally developed not-for-profit organisations and well-intended individuals wanting to share their passion for, expertise in, and support of virtual aviation. Aussie Star Flight Simulation (ASFS) places itself in the latter category.
To my knowledge, there has never been an umbrella organisation that has represented the collective of flight simulation organisations and groups. For some time, l have held the vision of forming an association, particularly for simmers in Australia. l have viewed the current ASFS website as a potential birthplace for such an association. Working solo and in isolation has proven to be a significant blocker to development.
l am therefore enlivened to see the initiation of an international association for the full gamut of parties involved in flight simulation. The founder, Gabriel Accascina, is a pilot and flight simulation enthusiast who, after a career as an international consultant, has turned his mind and skills to the world of virtual aviation and has formed the Association of Flight Simulation Builders and lnstructors — AFSBI.
What is AFSBI?
The Association of Flight Simulation Builders and instructors aims to support the whole flight simulation ecosystem. lt is a member-driven organisation that promotes the use of flight simulators across developers, builders, users, instructors and relevant communities and institutions. lts mission is to connect simulation professionals, enthusiasts, beginners and experts alike by pairing with industry leaders, instructors, builders and parts manufacturers.
A well-resourced website for the Association to promote its aims and support members has emerged and continues to be developed. Given my prior vision for such an organisation, rather than continuing with that dream, l have instead decided to devote energy into endorsing and supporting the ongoing development of AFSBI. The Association is intended to have an international outreach. However, l am hopeful that an Australian chapter could be established at some point in the future.
The objectives of the Association are, in summary, to:
- Promote development and use of flight simulators for both personal use and professional aviation training purposes;
- Promote the transition from flight simulation to real flying;
- Support the growing number of builders and instructors specializing in virtual aviation;
- Support members by connecting there to vendors, organizers and other industry partners to provide member-tailored discounts and other benefits;
- Organize, in collaboration with existing structures, annual gatherings of members and interested parties;
- Maintain an online, interactive and user-updated directory of simulators and simulator components, users, vendors, instruction providers, flight simulation communities and online references;
- Portray and promote innovative research and work done by members internationally;
- Provide an outreach services via a website and social media participation;
- Support a research Lab for product testing and recommendation; and,
- Provide a link between researchers, developers, builders and users, and Government and Non- Government organizations, education institutions and others, aimed at improving existing policies, promote standards and influence future trends in fostering flight simulation
- ln addition, the Association aims at providing support with certification of new simulators and their components.
AFSBI and Social Leadership
Much of my professional life has been forged by a belief in social leadership. Social leadership is the ability to bring people together, facilitate agreements and drive efforts in the same direction. The characteristics of social leadership tie in closely with the explosion of social media that now exists in our world. ln such a world, social media can act as the catalyst for the genesis of organisations based on social leadership principles. The predominant characteristics of social leadership are:
Communication — The intimacy of online communication enables everyone to have a voice. People can speak and to be spoken to. Change initiatives can be conveyed with ease. Blockers can be identified and corrected quickly. Leaders can communicate more effectively and stakeholders are given a voice and feel more engaged.
Collaboration — There is value in a collective of individuals. When someone posts an idea, article, video, photograph etc. and people start commenting, one thought triggers others and free association, inspiration and creativity is unleashed. Leaders who encourage and enable this kind of engagement are sowing the seeds of social enterprise for the benefit of all.
Education — Social media can be an awesome learning and community building tool. lt turns an organization and social enterprise into a global learning space. lt is also an unparalleled arena for questions to be asked and answers given in an atmosphere of life-long learning.
Engagement — Engagement is key. With social media, every involved person, and leader, can engage on a new, highly personalized level. When people are engaged, they feel respected and valued, and when that happens, they dig deeper, give more and feel they are a part of the community.
Monitoring — Social media enables leaders to be responsive. lt enables there to keep in touch with what’s happening close to real time. Monitoring enables successes to be revealed more quickly, and resources supplied to sustain gains made. Setbacks are more easily spotted, losses can be cut, and adjustments made where necessary.
Maximisation — Social media usage and development is evolving at a rapid pace. The use of social media such as YouTube, lnstagram, Pinterest, Twitter, G+, Linkedin and interactive websites are handing leaders and participants the tools that take the value of social media to new levels. Think member-generated tutorials and videos. Who says the ideas and expertise of a person in one country may not inspire and educate persons of similar interest across the world. This currently occurs within the flight simulation industry, but in a most ununified way.
Enjoyment — There is a sense of fulfilment and enjoyment when the principles of social leadership work interactively. lt brings people together for a common cause. lt overcomes isolation and disengagement. There is a sense of satisfaction knowing that it connects us and gives us a chance to engage in a public forum. lt provides an avenue for our own learning and benefit for the common good. lt is a stage to express our interests, our individuality, and sense of humour. For the social leader, it can be extremely gratifying and exciting to see organisations large and small, profit and non-profit, blossom into effective collectives of individuals to the benefit of all, in this case, the flight simulation community at large.
From my perspective, AFSBI ticks all the boxes for a socially led organisation. lts objectives of promoting research and development, supporting industry stakeholders, and having an interactive online outreach works well towards a collaborative approach to engagement. Further, it maximises the use of social media for two-way communication and the provision of opportunities for education and training. With this in mind, AFSBI offers the potential to become an effective umbrella organisation for the full spectrum of the flight simulation industry.
Advocacy and standards
As a representative organisation AFSBI can position itself to be an advocate within the industry. With industry leaders and experts in executive roles it can become a conduit for engagement with and lobbyist to regulatory bodies and governments on matters such as standards and certification. lt is estimated that the flight simulation industry internationally is worth around six billion dollars. For those engaged in the commercial product development sphere, market share is a considerable factor. Developers and retailers
therefore strive to provide the best possible products to meet standards and the needs of users. Standards
can vary and invariably market leaders emerge. Successful developers listen to and are cognisant of the desires of their customer base. From the input of users sourced by AFSBI, the Association could be the source of objective appraisal of goods and services coming to the market place.
At the hobbyist level, product reviews are seen in a variety of forums. But who are these reviewers? What qualifies there to be an ‘expert’ reviewer? On what criteria are they making judgements? By having a category of AFSBI accredited reviewers, users would have the satisfaction of knowing that the products purchased for their simulation needs meet the specifications required. This could be applied at any level within the industry. The same can be said about the degree of efficacy of education and training resources produced to support the end user.
But what are the standards for the home-based sim and the commercial flight simulation training device (FSTD) alike? At the high end of the market, regulatory bodies such as Australia’s CASA, Europe’s EASA and the United States’ FAA provide definitions, specifications and qualifications for the development and use of FSTDs. A full explanation of simulator classification is well articulated on the website of the Australian company, Aviation Simulator Technology.
The waters are muddied by a confusing system of formal classification. Industry and governments use a system of numbers and letters. lf, for example, a simulator doesn’t move it has a number. These are classified Level 1 to Level 7, with 7 being the most sophisticated.However, in practice certifications for Levels 4 to 7 only are issued by the FAA, and Level 7 is for helicopters. Technically, these are known as flight training devices (FTDs). At the lower end, these are easily accessible and relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, if it moves, it is classified by letter — Level A to Level D — D being the most sophisticated. These can cost millions of dollars.
Technically speaking, only those that move can be officially classified as simulators. This may come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts who have simulated aviation as a hobby. Flight simulation (yes, l’m going to continue using the ‘s’ word) as a recreational/entertainment pursuit emerged from the industry for real world pilot training. From the very first generation of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series in 1979, the terms ‘simulator’ or ‘simulation’ have been applied to the privately-owned home
market. And that’s the way it should be. The quality and sophistication of flight sim products in this sector have developed exponentially with the rapid advancement of computer technology. However, there are no regulatory bodies to set standards for the development of sim products. AFSBI could have a role to play in this area.
Re-imagining the flight simulation community
The flight simulation community is currently a disunited one. lnvolvement in flight simulation activities can be an isolating experience. While organisations such as VATSIM, virtual airlines and sim builders’ groups etc. exist, most activity essentially takes place by solo players in individual locations around the world. Most hobby simmers begin with a basic desktop kit. Some are or may have been real world pilots which has obvious advantages. But many have not had this opportunity. Their knowledge and expertise development of the complexities of simulated flight comes through a steep learning curve. A diversity of online forums, support groups and individuals provide valuable ‘how to’ advice. Occasionally a conference or expo is held where like-minded people can get together. Yet, in the final analysis, the ‘community’ essentially consists of a whole bunch of individuals engaging in their passion for simulated flight alone.
l have often wondered just how many active simmers actually exist in my own geographic area. l have speculated as to what might happen if those individuals were mobilised to form a local support group and meet collectively. Should that happen the notion of ‘community’ would change dramatically. Multiply that by a number of demographic areas and the possibility of inter-communication and collaboration becomes patently possible. All of a sudden you have the potential for connections to be made between local, state, national and international groups.
This could be achieved through a coordinating organisation such as AFSBI. With a large enough membership base, a role of the Association could be to identify members within demographic areas and encourage and support there in the formation of local groups. Membership of the Association would also afford its supporters the benefits of being part of an organisation dedicated to support its interests. Potentially the representative role of the Association would have the status to provide expert, informed advice to the industry as a whole and advocacy for its constituents. All members of the Association — whether a beginning home simmer or a manufacturer of Level D simulators — would be a part of a re- imagined community with a common interest in and passion for flight simulation.
The on-going existence of current grassroots niche groups would continue to provide a valuable service. Virtual airlines, cockpit builders’ groups, individuals and multiplayer organisations such as VATSIM in their own way assist in creating ‘community’. lndividual and organisational membership of AFSBI in addition would work towards the cementing of common objectives and representation of the wider flight simulation community.
Where to from here?
AFSBI is still in its infancy. There is some way to go before its stated objectives and the ideals outlined above can be fully realised. Through the championed principles of social leadership, there is the strongest of possibilities that AFSBI can become a significant force in the whole ecosystem of flight simulation activity. The strength of any community lies in its cohesiveness and movement forward with common interests and objectives. The success of a re-imagined community as described is solely dependent upon individuals and flight simulation organisations and groups getting behind it. To that end, the Association requires a solid and committed membership base. Organisational and individual application for membership is therefore encouraged.
Membership of the ASFBI is currently free, but that may change some time in the future. The Association is currently being financed primarily by Gabriel Accascina himself and donations. To register for membership and access the full website and its directories go to https://www.afsbi.org
ASFS & AFSBI
Aussie Star Flight Simulation (ASFS) is a wee speck in the ecosystem of flight simulation. lt aims to offer what it can in terms of support and resources for the flight sim hobby community. As essentially a solo operation with a small support base, it has struggled to realize its aim of maintaining an online outreach and eventually the dream of the formation of an association for Australian simmers. l am now of the view that that my wish can be achieved through membership and support of AFSBI. l commend the Association of Flight Simulation Builders and lnstructors to you.
by Greg Whiley (CaptAus)
Aussie Star Flight Simulation