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Events go ATC Zero?

This post will be about VATSIM events and how some controllers and events view the official "event time" window. Have you ever flown into an event just to have ATC log off 10-15 minutes prior to landing? Have you ever been ATC and you would like to stay online, but all others in your facility want to get off? There has been an increase to this being "standard" when it comes to events. Let's dig into it.

What is the event window?

It is the official time that the event takes place. Example a event is happening at the JFK Airport, the event date is today, and the time is 2300-0300z. This means the event is taking place during that time frame.

What is ATC Zero?

It is when a facility decides to all log off at the same time. This means no Tower, no Approaches, no Center (enroute). This can take place at anytime, anywhere, including events and not including events.

Pilot Perspective.

Everybody knows you can plan, plan, and plan. When the rubber meets the road in the flight simulation world you will quickly find out plans never go "as planned". You can have:

  • Simulator issues

  • Software updates

  • Scenery installs / uninstalls.

  • Navigraph (AIRAC) updates

  • ATC delays (on VATSIM or any other network)

  • Anything else the sim world can throw at you :)

Personally, nothing is more frustrating than planning for a flight, getting in the air for an event just to have ATC all log off (ATC Zero) before you get there. Lots of factors come into play when deciding where to fly and when, events draw a lot of attention due to their popularity.

ATC Perspective.

Controlling during an event is probably the single best thing about signing up to be a controller on VATSIM. All the training, time commitment, and learning all gets to pay off when you get to put them all to test during an event. The main question is why do so many want to get off right at event "end" time? Here are some reasons I have gathered talking to controllers:

  • Pilot quality - they get discouraged when pilots don't follow instructions.

  • Event is long enough - when an event exceeds 3hrs and close to 4hrs, they don't want to stay online anymore.

  • Staffing - if they don't have enough controllers the individual workload increases on those who are online.

My thoughts of why it is happening, and what we can do to fix it.

VATSIM, as well as other networks, built themselves revolving around the community. It did not matter if you were joining because you wanted to control, fly, or both. Everyone understood the network would not be successful without each other. In the past few years this mentality has seemed to shift. The culture is quickly becoming more ATC vs pilots.

It was common practice 5 to 10yrs ago to make sure all parties had an enjoyable experience. ATC would stay online 30 minutes to 1 hour longer after event "ends" to get as many pilots on the ground as possible. Pilots would strive to learn more each and every day, improving on their skills.

Something needs to change, or the network will become something very different than it is today. I think this problem falls completely on Division and Local leadership. They will have to set the examples of what it means to grow the community, be respectful, and ensure enjoyable experiences for all. How I think we can fix this problem:

  • Reduce event time windows to a standard 3 hours.

  • Give more flexibility to staffing (have fewer start earlier in event).

  • Create a culture of innovation and better enjoyment by all.

  • ATC leadership works with community, not just for ATC.

Please let us know your thoughts on this below. Do you think this is an issue? Do you think events should have a hard "closing" time?

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