What it is
As one user said, “Pro-ATC/X brings FSX to life.” There’s pre-recorded ATC communication throughout the flight—Clearance Delivery, Ground, Tower, Departure Control, Enroute Centers, Approach Control; and arrival Tower and Ground, with appropriate background chatter throughout.
All ATC sectors world-wide are defined and are depicted on a selectable moving map. A great feature enhancing situational awareness is that Ground Control provides actual taxiway directions between gate and runway; the moving map shows your aircraft’s progress at departure and arrival airports, as well depicting your flight’s route and progress. All the while your co-pilot handles ATC comm settings and responses, at your option; and additional flight management functions as well, as selected in Pro-ATC/X’s main screen - options.
When needed, vectors are offered, particularly when maneuvering to intercept an ILS glide path or to make a visual approach. Comprehensive voice checklists provided; their content is tailored to individual aircraft types and can be modified and extended.
Pro-ATC/X replaces Air Traffic Control in FSX, running with either FSX or Prepar3D.
Installation and Documentation
Pro-ATC/X is available for purchase by download at author Mourad Boutabba’s Pointsoft website; the current price is 49.95 Euros (approx. $64), payable via PayPal. The poatcx_setup.exe file is extracted from the downloaded zip file and run in the conventional manner. Users are cautioned to install as Administrator – and preferably not in C:\Program files (unless you’ve granted update privileges there).
Presently there’s no network capability. Pro-ATC/X runs outside FSX using SimConnect, so running on a single computer is not subject to FSX’s inherent 2.5 GB memory limitation. Having a second monitor really helps as the moving map (and other app displays) can be handled there (in windowed mode). I didn’t experience any performance impact running Pro-ATC/X on my single (over clocked) computer.
Originally dependent on FSX’s six-year old navigation data, Pro-ATC/X now uses Aerosoft’s NavDataPro navigation database for its route and airport data, which can be updated as often as desired.
Documentation, which is accessed from a “Help” button, expands into topics essentially explaining Pro-ATC/X’s screens, menus and options. Frankly, there’s probably more in this review as to how to apply Pro-ATC/X’s functions than you’ll find in the manual. Enhancements and/or fixes are listed with each maintenance release in an “Updates” topic but the document itself hasn’t been updated to reflect these in their respective topic context. Early users have by-and-large relied on Pointsoft’s Pro-ATC/X forum to discuss issues and proposed solutions.
A typical flight
I can’t really do Pro-ATC/X justice with a text-based description and a few illustrations as it is the voices that add so much to your simulated flight experience. So I’ll just describe its framework in general terms (more on voice features below)
As an illustration we’ll fly our Southwest Airlines 737-700 from Los Angeles Int’l (KLAX) to San Francisco Int’l (KSFO). But first we’ll need a flight plan. So before loading FSX we bring up the Pro-ATC/X main panel (figure 1), noticing that it comes with only one flight originating at KLAX, and that’s going to Tokyo! Oops; we’ll need to create another flight plan—that’s easy, select the ‘Flightplan’ tab and fill in the blanks; the recommended cruise altitude is filled in automatically.
The generated plan is listed in the planning screen’s center column; the route is shown on the map to the right. Notice that you can try different routings by clicking on ‘Recalculate’. We select the route transitioning to airway J6 at the AVE VOR.
Fig 1. Pro-ATC/X Flight Plan screen
Curious as to whether the Pro-ATC/X generated flight plan would match one of FSBuild 2’s preferred routes? I tried that and it did—assigning the CASTA2 SID departing Rwy 25R, transitioning at the AVE VOR; and with KSFO’s arrival transition BIG SUR 2 and Rwy 28R. Keep in mind, though, when flying under Pro-ATC/X control the SID and STAR assignments will be deferred dependent on current winds.
So let’s get started.
Fig 2. Preparing for departure KLAX Gate 11
We load FSX with PMDG’s 737NGX at Southwest’s Gate 11 and start Pro-ATC/X if it’s not already running. As with FSX’s default ATC, you bring up its menu with keystroke 1, which presents appropriate choices. In this case we want Clearance Delivery, but first we need current weather information.
We need to transfer the provided Comm frequency to its active status for our initial contact; if you like, that chore is handled automatically from then on. So with a click of the mouse you hear the local ATIS transmission (also with a green text bar if desired). Now click ‘clearance delivery’ and you’ll be acknowledged with an approved flight plan including a runway assignment and SID (if available), your squawk code and other details.
Now you get busy in the cockpit, either initiating your GPS or more likely, setting up your FMS route in the plane’s CDU. Happily Pro-ATC/X allows you to enter the route details with a single click using the FMS’s ‘Co Route’ function, and of course you handle the other details such as MCP settings and remaining flight deck chores.
When ready, the following steps are to request pushback (and/or engine start) and then to contact Ground for taxi instructions. The amazing thing is that you’ll receive full taxi routing to the assigned runway holding point. Upon arrival there you call Tower for takeoff clearance (and notify the cabin crew); the response will be to line up in position and, once there, you’ll hear “Cleared for takeoff, confirming course and the initial altitude assignment. Takeoff clearance may be delayed if there’s an AI plane approaching or on the runway ahead of you.
As you climb you’ll be directed to contact upcoming ARTCC sectors and be given successively higher altitude instructions; I’ve found that the controllers generally are ahead of you so your climb will be continuous to your cruise (or step) altitude. The benefit of today’s cockpit automation is that most flight control and throttle settings are handled by the autopilot, as indicated in the PFD’s flight mode annunciator; mostly you won’t be hearing heading instructions from ATC because the autopilot’s LNAV/VNAV paths will be following the flight plan precisely.
As you near your destination’s Approach Control center you’ll be instructed to begin your descent, but likely earlier than from the FMC’s computed TOD, and hence you’ll switch from VNAV to ALT CHG, departing from VNAV’s altitude management. Once within range you are instructed to contact Approach Control, where you learn which STAR to fly and the expected runway assignment, RISTI4 and Rwy ILS 28L in this case (Figure 3).
You have the option to add those waypoints to the FMS Route page, again with the ‘Co Route’ LSK; or better yet, go to the DEP/ARR page, select and activate the designated STAR and Rwy (remembering to close the resulting discontinuities on the LEGS page).
Fig. 3. ATC Approach Control designates STAR and expected runway.
Notice in Figure 4 that the route’s ending waypoint, MOVDD (which is also the RISTI4 STAR’s transition) is not aligned with the approach heading from the next waypoint, CEDES (because we are arriving from the south). Rather than taking an unnecessary detour, we contact the current center to request “Direct To’ routing to CEDES. With center’s approval we change our next FMS waypoint to CEDES (before reaching MOVDD) and turn smoothly to follow the approach heading.
Fig. 4. Moving map showing current position.
Pro-ATC/X will get you down in plenty of time to cross at any waypoint’s published altitude restriction, all the way to the Final Approach Fix. Be aware, however, that Pro-ATC/X won’t be aware of possible intervening terrain obstructions as its ATC directs further reduced altitudes (and likely early compared to those shown on the LEGS page). So when creating the flight plan you may want to add an altitude restriction at a waypoint beyond the obstructing mountain range so that Pro-ATC/X’s ATC doesn’t give you a lower altitude too soon to clear it.
As you turn to intercept the assigned runway localizer/glide path you hear “Cleared to land” from the arrival airport’s tower; the rest is up to you! Again, once clear of the runway you’ll contact Ground control. If all goes well, you’ll be issued taxi instructions to the chosen gate, B21 in this example.
Fig. 5. Gate map at SFO
Ready for prime time?
It was disappointing, to say the least, that early users encountered so many limitations and errors with Pro-ATC/X’s initial release this past June and over the subsequent five months or so. In my opinion, as of this writing the current version (188.8.131.52) is stable, and sufficiently feature-rich to merit “Version 1” status. Improvements are continuing—and they are impressive.
So, was the original Pro-ATC/X released prematurely? Yes, particularly for a relatively expensive add-on product.
On the other hand, consider this: There are many, many flight plan permutations so unforeseen situations are certain to occur—and are likely to be encountered only over time by a variety of users. Since being released, Pro-ATC/X has by now been exposed to various country- and route-specific conditions by many more individuals than could be reasonably expected in a beta test. And find exception conditions they did!
To the developer’s credit he has responded, usually in a matter of days if not hours, to correct the offending code (eighteen updates to date) while adding functionality as limitations surfaced.
And here’s another thing—early on, Pro-ATC/X worked reasonably well with FSX’s default airports and aircraft; but users willing to pay the product’s asking price typically don’t do much flying with default aircraft or airport scenery. That’s particularly true of the phenomenally successful PMDG 737 NGX.
So Mourad found himself in effect retrofitting Pro-ATC/X to support various FMC implementations; updating navigation data (NavDataPro, similar to Navigraph) and applying realigned AFCAD data from 3rd-party airports. Well, Mourad’s seen the light, as evidenced by Pro-ATC/Xs now extensive compatibility features.
Integration with third-party add-ons and utilities
“No man is an island” nor are today’s add-on products. Though this review specifically addresses Pro-ATC/X ‘s features and capabilities, I suspect most readers will want to know how well (if at all) Pro-ATC/X coexists with other popular add-ons.
Well, here the news is good: I had no (recent) problems loading and running Pro-ATC/X concurrently with PMDG's 737 NGX; having added detailed airport and city scenery, enhanced the airport environment with GSX, RAAS, Ultimate Traffic's AI and AivlaSoft's Electronic Flight Bag; with REX essentials + for real weather, and enhanced the cabin ambiance with FS2Crew, EZDOK and Track IR. And my Windows 7 – 64bit O/S, 8 GB RAM configuration runs all this without having had any “out of memory” events.
Why do I stress my computer with such an extreme and complex load? Simply put, my objective is to create as realistic a simulated air transport environment as possible. So a deal breaker with Pro-ATC/X would have been compatibility issues with these add-ons. There were problems at first; Mourad moved quickly to iron those out seemingly as soon as users brought them up in the forum.
How realistic is Pro-ATC/X?
That’s in the eye (ear?) of the beholder. On balance, yes, Pro-ATC/X is surprisingly realistic—as far as it goes.
Flight planning is of the essence
For those flying default FSX aircraft such as its 737-800, Pro-ATC/X’s flight planning provides a significant improvement over FSX’ own Flight Planner because Pro-ATC/X-generated plans include SID and (in the approach phase) STAR waypoints.
| Here’s how it works (quoted from the developer, Mourad Boutabba): “PRO-ATC/X assigns the SID and STAR procedures at run time; this means after the flight is started, since the procedures to assign depend on wind heading and this can differ from flight to flight, especially when flying with real weather. |
An FSX flight plan is already now generated and loaded automatically into the GPS. This is done in 2 steps:
Step 1: When Clearance Delivery assigns a SID procedure or vectors, a flight plan containing all SID and airway waypoints is generated and loaded into the GPS. At this point we don't know which STAR procedure will be assigned later!
Step 2 is done after approach control assigns a STAR or vectors. By the way, the generated flight plan is saved into the file "proatcx.pln" in your personal fsx folder.”
If, on the other hand, you seek the kind of realism implicit in LNAV/VNAV features of today’s add-on air transport aircraft, you won’t be using FSX’s flight planner or GPS for navigation.
To start with, you can now import existing flight plans (or create new plans using a 3rd-party planner such as FSBuild), or create SID-based flight plans within Pro-ATC/X (both .pln and optionally, .rte formats are supported), and export these to other applications, REX essentials for example. Once you’ve contacted Clearance Delivery you can load either the Pro-ATC/X-assigned route (including SID waypoints) into an aircraft’s FMC (‘PROATCX-CLR’) using ‘Co Route’; or load just the route itself including its transition waypoints into the FMC, then add the SID directly into the FMC afterward (based on Clearance Delivery’s approved or assigned SID).
Either way, once you’ve contacted your destination Approach controller while enroute you will be assigned an ILS runway and a related STAR based on then-current winds, just as in real life. You have the option of loading the flight plan’s newly generated approach segment (‘PROATCX-APR’) by using the FMC’s Co Route function or, more realistically, by selecting the assigned arrival runway and STAR using the FMC’s DEP/ARR page.
“Chatter” creates the ambiance
Another stand-out feature is Pro-ATC/X’s natural-sounding voice quality. Mostly you’ll hear climb instructions and an occasional ‘Direct To’ during departure; instructions to contact another Center (the zones and sectors are depicted on the moving map); descent altitude instructions, vectors to intercept the FAF (if needed) and landing clearance when reaching the FAF; and even taxi instructions once you’ve landed and exited the runway.
You can select a pre-recorded voice as pilot, your co-pilot, and multiple controller voices (and record your own, if you like). Several users have already posted American- or Canadian-accented pilot, co-pilot and controller voices at Pointsoft’s download site; North American flight simmers will definitely want to download these. And in a departure from real-world phrasing the SID or STAR’s name won’t be pronounced, instead it’s spelled out, as Pro-ATC/X doesn’t have a text-to-speech facility. For that matter, you’ll hear “. . . destination airport” rather than actual airport names in clearances, and often simply “Contact Center” rather than “Contact (center name) Center. In the U.S., an exception to that is that “Los Angeles Center” may be heard instead of simply “Center.”
All this is accompanied by realistic radio-sounding “chatter” specific to designated airports and ATC regions throughout the world. And in most cases chatter is specific to the ATC locale—Clearance Delivery, Ground, Tower, Departure Control, En-route centers, etc. Accented chatter sets are provided for England and several European countries—but in a glaring exception, not for North America. Those flying in U.S. or Canadian airspace likely will find the alternative UK-voiced chatter is pretty good, however most locales you hear voiced will of course be in the UK.
RealATC developer Ralph Zimmerman has stepped in by compiling a set of his U.S. recorded chatter files, tailoring them specifically to be imported into Pro-ATC/X. I’ve already installed a version of his RealATC files and find that the recorded chatter is quite comprehensive and blends in very nicely. Ralph offers a preliminary version you can download.
That brings up another point: Any airport, ATC center or individual sector, or an entire country or region for that matter world-wide can be selected on the provided “Background ATC Configuration” map. There you can associate any of these with specific chatter folders to create a “profile”—so as your flight transits national borders, for example, the controller voices you hear will be accented accordingly.
In this way Ralph’s RealATC chatter files can be associated with the entire U.S. and Canada if you like. An AU profile could be set up for files someone has recorded in Australian airspace and contributed to the Pointsoft website’s download center, and so forth. (Contributed chatter file uploading capability is pending, similar to that already provided for contributed voice files.)
What did that checklist say?
A comprehensive set of checklists come with Pro-ATC/X , each associated with a specific aircraft and accessed from the ATC menu. Select a particular checklist and your co-pilot announces each check item; with the ‘1’ key you’ll hear your response to each in turn. In addition to default checklists provided for the Airbus -320 and -321, and the 727-200, 737-700, and 777-300, you can create your own or modify existing checklists, in any of a dozen conditions—from’ Before Start’ through ‘Shutdown’ and ‘Secure’.
So What’s Next?
Pro-ATC/X is a moving target, and that’s a good thing. Already a quite competent replacement for FSX’s ATC, I believe it has potential—and sufficient motivation on the developers’ part—to become the must-have ATC package. I can recommend Pro-ATC/X now without reservation, and I look forward what’s coming.
I invited Mourad Boutabba to share some plans for Pro-ATC/X:
| “There is a lot more functionality still to implement. Moreover, PRO-ATC/X will benefit from user suggestions and wishes, which I’m going to implement one by one should they be beneficial to the development process and also if they increase the users’ real world experiences whilst using PRO-ATC/X. |
I’m currently working on the next update. It will recognize the AI much better than it does currently. Of course I will take Ultimate Traffic 2 and My Traffic into account. Also I am going to display the AI on the moving map.
(Future updates) will include:
I asked Mourad “Anything you might add regarding plans for future controller voice recordings with corrected ATC phraseology, as mentioned several times in the forum?”
And I’m inclined to think we can expect a networked version later.
Some words for the record about Mourad and Pointsoft
| “I’m a flightsim enthusiast since I got started with FS3 for the first time in 1989. After a short time I realized that a lot of things were missing and could be improved. In fact Flight Simulator was the main reason for me to learn how to program computers. |
So I purchased my first book about programming (C/C++) and tried it out – without success! I got another book – still no success. Then I have found a book on programming with Turbo Pascal (version 3 I think). Everything was explained as needed for a rookie. Well, that is the reason why I’m programming with Delphi XE 2, which is actually a further development of the language Pascal. Of course I have used other languages in the meantime (C++, JAVA, C# and others).
About six years later I developed my first commercial Flight Simulator 95 Add-On; which was a collection of different 737/747 panels. The first PRO-ATC similar program was released in 1997 for FS 98, and the last one in 2003 (FSCOM 2004). In 2002 I started working, here in Germany for a company as a Software Architect, which I'm leaving very shortly so I can give full commitment to further Flight Simulator add-ons once again. I’m still a flightsim enthusiast – I can’t resist.”
Some Final thoughts
| Publisher: Pointsoft |
Platform: FSX & P3D
Format: Download (212MB)
Reviewed By: Maury Pratt
AVSIM Bd of Dir Member
For “full disclosure” I should add that he is assisted by an Avsim staff member; forum moderator Clive Joy (known as ‘alpha 117’).
Intel i5-2500k (o’ clkd to 4.3 GHz)
8 Gb RAM
OCZ 120 Gb SSD
GeForce GTX 560
Samsung SA950 27" display
HP 21" 2nd display
Saitek X52 flight stick & throttle
Windows 7 64 bit
Flight Test Time - 30 hours
What I Like . . .
- Built-in SID and STAR support, especially in that altitude crossing restrictions are respected
- ATC “voices” are human, not robotic
- Moving map (for 2nd monitor)—also depicts gate and taxiway locations
- Support for third-party aircraft and airports, the PMDG 737NGX in particular—with SID/STAR waypoint entry by FMC
- Co-pilot action/response options; can handle comm radio settings automatically even when running concurrently with another voice control app
- Flight plan import/export is now available
What I Don’t Like . . .
- Top-of-descent calculation tends to occur unnecessarily early (737NGX)
- ARTCC chatter limited to Great Britain and Europe; no North American option (but see discussion above)
- Lacks robust AI aircraft recognition