“United 310, taxi runway 34R via Charlie Sierra, Golf, Foxtrot, and Foxtrot 1”. “American 1525, follow company traffic to runway 34R”. “United 385, contact Denver Departure 124.6” “Southwest 1032, turn left next taxiway and taxi to your gate”.
These were just a few of the radio calls I overheard in rapid succession one recent morning while watching the airport traffic and tuned to the frequency for Ground Control at Denver International Airport (KDEN) . Except at the time I was north of Seattle, Washington, not at KDEN, and the voices of the controller and the pilots making their read backs were created by Microsoft through FSX.
Like any good airplane enthusiast I have spent my requisite time listening to a radio scanner and even tuned into the action on one of the live ATC computer channels available at www.liveatc.net. But these were just audio feeds and I had to use my imagination to visualize the actual aircraft movements.
Then there are the times when one is using Flight Simulator and wants to inject real airliner traffic into the airport environment. There are products and programs available to accomplish that but the traffic they generate is generally based on Official Airline Guide (OAG) listings and may not reflect what is actually going on as schedules are subject to change and weather and mechanical failures can introduce delays to the published schedules.
Thus, I was intrigued to learn of an offering called FS Live Traffic 3 by AirNav Systems Inc.
Installation and Documentation
The program arrives on your desktop as a downloadable file. It installs very easily and leaves you with a desktop icon for access. All you need to add is an active internet connection and FSX.
Those who may have Live Traffic X (the original version of the program for FSX) or My Traffic X must either uninstall or, in the case of My Traffic X, upgrade it to the 5.2 Pro or 2010 version. There is also some minor housekeeping that must be done to the SimObjects file in FSX but it is all quite easy.
There is also a 26 page manual in PDF format that can be downloaded. 11 pages of this consists of screenshots but the remainder provides detailed installation instructions and some configuration tips.
FS Live Traffic 3 promises to provide the same real airline traffic as the earlier offerings but states that the traffic information is freshly loaded each time and will reflect actual aircraft movements from one minute before the download. This is quite a tall measure to deliver but a little research into the company found that they would quite likely have the bona fides to handle the job.
AirNav Systems is primarily a provider of aircraft tracking hardware and software for the aviation community both professional flight organizations and home users. Real-time flight information is collected and then distributed to its users. For traffic in North America, AirNav Systems utilizes the ASDI data stream. ASDI is an acronym for Aircraft Situation Display to Industry. It is a service made available through the US Department of Transportation from FAA radar and flight plan data.
The ASDI stream consists of data elements showing the position and flight plans of all aircraft in North American airspace. Elements include the location, altitude, airspeed, destination, estimated time of arrival and tail number or designated identifier of air carrier and general aviation aircraft operating on IFR flight plans within U.S. airspace.
For tracking of aircraft in other parts of the world, AirNav Systems uses information derived from ADS-B GPS tracking. The information is provided in almost real-time with some delays possible for security reasons before data is made available by the FAA.
Since AirNav Systems has all of this data already for its business clients, it is a logical extension to offer it to the flight simulator community for enhancement of AI traffic. This was accomplished by combining the flight tracking software with the My Traffic X program to convert the real-time flight data to AI aircraft models.
Enough Already - How Does It Work?
To utilize the program it must be initiated before each FSX session. Before starting FSX, the FS Live program is run. Users who want to “test drive” Live Traffic 3 can do so by clicking on the Demo tab. This quickly feeds a stored sample of flight data that will only show traffic for three airliner types; B737, A3230 and B744. To receive the full download requires a password which is received after the registration process and fee payment.
After you enter your email address and a password connection is made and the AirNav server downloads a good deal of data, in most instances for me it amounted to between 16 and 17 Mb of information each time during the day and 13 Mb at night. While there is no visible indication of the download progress, a message does appear when it is complete. One then closes the program and starts FSX.
At this point it is advisable to have some other task to perform because the assimilation of all that data into AI traffic can take a l-o-n-g time. My usual slow 5 minute startup times for FSX were easily tripled. But once everything loaded, I positioned myself at Chicago O’Hare (KORD) in the default ultralight (so that I would have the maximum viewing area) and started looking around.
Immediately I noticed a row of American Eagle CRJs and EMB145s parked on the ramp and a terminal packed with silver American Airlines aircraft not far away. From the international terminal, a British Airways 747 began taxiing to the active while in the background a United 757 departed from 9R. Interspersed with this traffic were some default AI aircraft sporting their fictitious liveries. I found this to be a bit distracting and contacted AirNav Systems who instructed me to simply change my TrafficAircraft.bgl to TrafficAircraft.bgl.passive. Indeed, after making this one adjustment I was left with only real airline traffic in subsequent sessions.
Seeing all of this genuine traffic made me even more curious as to how they were generated and the staff at AirNav Systems was quite patient and thorough in answering my questions. Their explanation was that FSLive uses the method provided by Microsoft to run AI traffic, so all the movements of AI aircraft are predicated as programmed into the schedule information bgl as indicated by the ASDI and ADS-B data a minute before download.
Schedule information consists of departure time, destination, flight level, flight number, and the departure airport. These thousands of schedules are calculated based on the actual real life data sets. So as an example, if a BAA 767 flight from Rome, Italy LFCO to London, England EGLL gets observed over Switzerland, the departure time from LFCO will be calculated from the actual time of the observation and the distance using the formula from inside FSX ( and the speed values used), so that, when you have started up FSX in real time, that 767 will be at the northern border of Switzerland . This schedule will remain in the data until the next time this flight is tracked, then the departure time from this new observation may be a minute or two different from the previous observation and will be corrected correspondingly.
The data is downloaded from the AirNav server only one time, before FSX is activated. All AI aircraft movement in FSX for that session will then be based on that downloaded data.
There are obvious and not so obvious advantages of Live Traffic 3 as a result of this method to create the data. While other programs rely on published airline schedules to create the AI aircraft, AirNav takes the data from the FAA data stream and displays the actual traffic. That is the obvious part-what is happening in the world will be re-created on your computer.
Not as obvious is the fact that because the information is obtained from the AirNav server, any data problems are handled by them and will not interfere with what is seen by the user. If some information needed to generate a flight is missing, that aircraft will be disregarded and not sent on to be displayed so the airplanes you see will act predictably and smoothly.
That’s how it works…so how does it work?
I was preparing for a flight sim session late one night and downloaded the FS Live 3 traffic before starting FSX. Being on the west coast of the USA with relatively little scheduled airline traffic at that hour, and even less further east, I figured my best opportunity to see extensive traffic would be to visit two airports that see a lot of night traffic- KMEM Memphis, TN and KSDF Louisville KY, main hubs of FedEx and UPS respectively.
Sure enough, the cargo ramp was full of parked aircraft at both locations. Periodically, a plane would push back and start engines. Tuning the Comm radio to the Ground frequency I was treated to a succession of pilots requesting taxi for takeoff. The controller would issue taxi instructions that were dutifully read back and the big planes would trundle off to the taxiways, occasionally being ordered to hold short of a runway due to departing traffic, which would then move past and lift off.
At KSDF I watched for awhile and then switched the time of day to a daylight hour for better viewing. Since the download from the AirNav server was already assimilated into FSX, the time change had no effect on the traffic and a stable of airplanes remained on the ramp and continued requesting taxi. I counted at least 20 UPS jets parked in the large ramp area.
another occasion I wandered over to RJAA Narita Airport in Tokyo,
I was at the terminal where aircraft from Continental,
Thai, Korean and Northwest airlines were parked. The time was set
for 10:00 AM local. I minimized FSX and left my computer. Forgetting
that it was still on, I did not return to it until ten hours later.
It was now night in Tokyo and the aircraft I had seen before were
all gone. I was in a Socata Trinidad because it offered excellent
visibility and watched as an Air China 747 arrived. As it was nearing
the gate it stopped after the ground controller cautioned that
a Trinidad was in the way. Oops…I quickly moved and the Air
China aircraft was instructed to continue.
The fact that I had left FSX running all day brought about some philosophical musings akin to the “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?” and “Does the refrigerator light stay on when the door is closed?” questions in that, if FSX is running but no one is there, do the pilots still ask for and receive clearances?
Nonetheless, if plane spotting is your thing this is an outstanding way to accomplish that task without having to make the trek to an airport and find a spot to do some observing without being denied or shooed away by nervous security restrictions. The plane spotting opportunities here abound. FSLive Traffic 3 provides enhancements to 1600 airports and with at least 61 different aircraft models and over 600 textures available, it is quite likely that the aircraft you see will be presented at the proper gates and in the correct configurations and airline liveries.
The aircraft models themselves are not of the highest quality but are certainly vivid enough that one can easily identify what kind of airplane it is and this tradeoff in slight quality minimization is a fair tradeoff when you consider what effect finer modeling would likely have on frame rates. I was able to sit at busy airports with my FSX airline traffic slider control at 100% and enjoy realistic views and aircraft movements.
But this ability to watch traffic comes at a price - roughly $40.00 to $54.00 for a three month subscription. I would consider paying that as a one time cost but 4 times a year at that amount seems a bit steep for me. You see, I am not a guy who uses the default AI aircraft or the default ATC very often. I prefer VATSIM for my ATC and the live traffic interaction that comes with it.
Minimal as it may be at times for what would otherwise be a busy hub airport, I find the default ATC in flight simulator to be too quirky and inflexible. It is rather obvious that it would not be feasible for the FSLive traffic to function in the VATSIM environment and as soon as one connects to an online ATC server that traffic disappears just as all AI aircraft do. Personally, I believe this program would be of minimal use to me.
But someone who wants to insert himself into the steady flow of traffic at a busy airport will simply not find a better way to do so than with FS Live Traffic 3. If this is you check it out at www.airnavsystems.com.
For what it does; taking real world traffic and displaying it as dynamic features in the FSX environment, FS Live Traffic 3 performs brilliantly. Is it practical? That is an individual assessment dependent on how often you would benefit from having this traffic in your world.
What I Like About FS Live Traffic 3
What I Don't Like About FS Live Traffic 3
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved