I love airports. Something about the continuous activity on the tarmac, the movement and even the servicing of aircraft at the gates mesmerizes me. I can wile away the time waiting to board a flight simply by sitting down and looking out the windows of the terminal. So it is no surprise that one of my favorite aspects of flight simulation are the airports.
I was an eager participant in the Taxiway Signs project that added signage to FS2002 airports and we were not upset when FS9 debuted with signs already included and put us out of business (although ours had a better nighttime appearance). I was pleased to see jetways added in FS9 as yet another step towards recreating the actual airport environment.
So it was with great anticipation that I installed the Skymakers SCEL airport scenery addition to FS9.
Installation and Documentation
The scenery was obtained as a download of 46MB and it loaded without effort. The download is designed as a demo version that offers full enhancement for 7 minutes before the buildings disappear. Insertion of a registration code allows for full operability.
One oddity, however, is that every time I start FS, I get a message stating that the scenery is loaded but has not yet been activated on this computer and inviting me to do so. I agree and receive confirmation that it has been done, but on the next FS startup I receive the same activation invitation. This only obligates me to a couple of mouse clicks and mere seconds of time, so I find it more interesting than irritating but nonetheless it is something I have never encountered with other scenery downloads.
SCEL is the Arturo Merino Benitez Airport in Santiago, Chile, which is the primary airport for that city. I do not have familiarity with Chilean airports and the scenery download offers very little by way of documentation so in preparation, I did a Google search and obtained some information from official sites.
The airport has experienced steady growth over the past few years. The passenger count was 1.8 million in 2005 and increases roughly by 250,000 each year. Aircraft movements exhibit a similar upward trend of 3,500 flights each year resulting in a 2005 total of 25,700.
SCEL utilizes 2 parallel runways of 10,500’ length in a north/south configuration (17L/35R and 17R/35L) with the terminal area located midfield in between them. Runway 17L/35R is certified for CAT III and ILS IIIA operations.
The passenger terminal provides 15 gates along the L-shaped building equipped with jetways and an additional two parking slots served by outside boarding stairs south of the terminal. Along the east side are 9 parking spots and a cargo building offering an additional six gate positions. The airport is served by five airlines Air Europa, EAT, Iberia, Spanair and SwiftAir. A dedicated military area is also located well north of the civilian facilities.
I conducted an initial taxi tour of the airport and was pleased to see that every gate position was prominently marked with the gate number. However, some of these markings; particularly on the east ramp and cargo area, were numbered differently from the airport diagram I had obtained. I sent a note of inquiry to Skymakers and received a speedy response stating that the airport authority had only recently re-numbered some parking areas. The scenery had already been designed and it would require a major effort to make the change to incorporate this recent development. I was assured that the markings were an accurate depiction of the gate plan in use at the time the scenery design was frozen for production and that plans for an eventual update are in the works. I was also provided an update file designed to correct some texture bugs on approach found in the original release.
I started my tour from the southwest corner of the ramp area where there are 2 open-air parking spots. I proceeded northbound past the terminal area and it was obvious that the terminal textures went beyond the standard FS airport buildings and certainly appeared to represent actual buildings. This impression was confirmed when I viewed some photos of the actual airport provided to me by Skymakers and this allowed me to appreciate the attention to detail that went into the product. The various light towers ringing the terminal building also impressed me. Something about them seemed to provide added realism.
The jetways looked real and even included the electrical umbilicals strung along the exterior. The pavement markings were clear and well defined and I followed the lead-in line to dock at gate 19. As my aircraft neared the jetway, I could discern a series of 4 nose wheel stop point markings on the ground. But I was disappointed that there was no ramp signaler or docking guidance system to assist the parking sequence as the stop points passed beneath the airplane’s nose and out of my sight.
And thus I became aware of my biggest disappointment with this scenery offering. There are no dynamic vehicles or movement beyond that of my own aircraft and the AI airplanes generated by FS. This lack of activity made it a rather sterile place and I would have liked to see ground service equipment such as luggage carts, catering trucks, tugs, etc going about their business.
There were a few props situated here and there, a cargo platform and some fire extinguishers and trucks at some of the gates but these were all static. The effects that are present were well done, darkened areas of the tarmac as indications of engine exhaust and various stains that accumulate as the areas are used.
The taxiway lines were “freshly painted” being quite vivid and clear and the taxiway signs were large and easy to read. But not every taxiway was marked with a sign. Nonetheless, I continued to motor around and explored the north section of the airport. I passed one of the two fire stations where a few green trucks sat outside and took a look at a large LAN Chile hangar. The hangar was open and the airplane could be brought inside but it and others at the airport were generally of a generic construct and devoid of any interior appointments.
One of the finer touches was the office area of the FBO. The low building had tinted windows that appeared to reflect the image of a facing building with the image distorted just enough that it truly appeared to be a reflection.
Rather than undertake a long back taxi out of the FBO area I took the liberty of heading north on a service road (after all, there were no signs indicating that it was for ground vehicles only and I did not see any security vehicles or personnel to deter me) toward the corporate/military facility at the north end of the airport. I encountered an AI Learjet taxiing to the ramp and followed it. I noticed that after it turned to the access taxiway for the parking area that it was tracking well to the right of the taxiway indicating perhaps that the depicted and FS taxiway alignments were not quite synchronized.
I took a ride past a couple of empty open-air revetment enclosures that would house military aircraft and circled the perimeter of the expansive ramp area for corporate operators and small hangars.
I did note that depiction of foliage is not a strong suit. The trees were one-dimensional with gaps in their leaf crowns and vertical seams. But I do not go to airports to look at trees…in fact it is quite unusual to see a tree at an airport so I do not fault the scenery designers for directing their creativity and resources to more utilitarian aspects of the airport environment.
For the return taxi to the main terminal area I reset the clock to night hours. The taxiways were beautifully illuminated with green centerline lights clearly showing the main and low visibility routes around the airport. But I did come to some taxiway intersections that did not have signs so it is imperative to maintain great situational awareness in order to avoid getting lost.
The situation was certainly not helped by the fact that the terminal was completely dark as I trundled past. I worked my way over to runway 17R and enroute I started to see more taxiway signs. When I looked back to the terminal it was obvious that someone had been able to start generating electricity again as the terminal windows were now illuminated. Why there was this delay in the building and taxiway lighting I do not know.
I returned to the terminal area admiring the lighted windows but nearing the gate area I found that this interior lighting was all that existed. There were no position lights on parked airplanes (a fault not of the scenery designers as these were standard FS AI airplanes), no lights at the gates and; most disturbing of all, those impressive light towers were completely dark. What had been a somewhat sterile location during daylight became a dark pit at night and made the existence of a taxi light on the airplane a necessity to avoid inadvertent contact with murky fuselages. In fact, while taxiing on the main east/west taxiway I suddenly had a windscreen full of 737 as an airplane turned left across my nose and waddled to a gate.
I went to the cargo area and it was unrecognizable in the dark. I was extremely disappointed that the ramp lighting left so much to be desired. I was also taken aback by the representation of asphalt. The runways and service roads were rather indistinct at their edge lines and appeared to almost be of dirt construction. The centerlines would be blurry until just before they passed underneath the aircraft nose and the runway markings are in need of a fresh coat of paint.
The night representation of runways was superior in some respects if for no other reason than the pavement imperfections could not be seen and that the lighting was very well done. But good runway lighting is a feature found even in most default FS runways so it is difficult to say whether the SCEL effect is anything special; especially when viewed while airborne, or if it is the standard FS9 lighting treatment.
Summary / Closing Remarks
I respect the fact that a designer takes the time and effort to depict an airport and especially a commercial international airport and if this were a freeware offering I would be thankful for what was included and leave it at that. But if I am going to spend money on payware scenery, I expect that it will either be a “knock your socks off” representation or offer many features such as dynamic vehicles, some kind of assistance for aircraft parking guidance, and realistic night lighting.
While SCEL appears to be a sincere attempt to depict the Benitez Airport, it falls short in these last few areas and offers few surprises and for those reasons I cannot place it in the same category as other titles that do offer these amenities. I like seeing the airport, but I feel I could be enjoying it so much more. At a US price of $21.00 this is not a bad purchase and any aficionado of SCEL should be pleased with it. But I do believe the Skymakers crew has room for improvement and enhancement that I hope will be forthcoming in updates or new offerings.
What I Like About SCEL
What I Don't Like About SCEL
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