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Evan Reiter

From Gate to Gate: BVA’s 2019

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On August 10, 2019, Boston Virtual ARTCC’s air traffic controllers gathered in a small town in New Hampshire near the site of the FAA’s Boston Center building. They came from across the country by bus, plane, train, and automobile.  And they all did it to experience the fun of doing what we all enjoy on a nightly basis—flying and controlling on the VATSIM network—but in person. As in past years, Boston (KBOS) was fully staffed for more than 5 hours; there was also great ATC coverage at our smaller airports.


This year marked BVA’s 20th annual Boston Tea Party. Our controllers have been doing this annual meet-up, complete with dinners downtown, breakfasts at the airport cafe, and plenty of adult beverages, for longer than some of our members have been alive!


Each day when our members connect to the VATSIM network as pilots or air traffic controllers, we’re representing the community to the rest of the network. But we’re also adding to the rich story that is BVA and helping inspire the next generation of pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation professionals. When we staff up the ARTCC for 60 hours straight, help run the continent’s largest flight simulation conference, or partner with neighboring facilities to run busy Friday Night Operations events, we’re (normally) having fun. But, many of us are also training, learning, and building the connections that transcend the online world.


Serving a virtual community of volunteers with such a lengthy and storied history is a privilege those of us on the Administration Team (A-Team), and on the staff here at BVA, do not take lightly. We hold the responsibility of carrying this lengthy history and our strong tradition of excellence into the future. And we take it seriously.


For us on the A-Team, a new year at BVA starts like a “cold and dark” airplane parked at a gate. The airplane’s hundreds of flight hours and many cycles all inform its future: there are maintenance requirements at intervals, that little dent in the frame from a careless jetway operator a few years ago, and probably a few deferred (or MEL’d) mechanical fixes that will get dealt with “eventually”. There are also thousands of pages of instructions, certifications, and documents that exist to ensure when the flight crew and passengers step on board, they’re on a safe and airworthy craft. That’s our history at BVA: we may not see it each day, but all 20 years of history has gotten us where we are today.


The Pre-Departure Briefing: 2019 Goals


Before any flight, pilots review operational information like maintenance status, weather, flight plans, airspace, airport closures, and much more. In the same way, our Administration Team starts off each year by looking at the last: reviewing the goals we set out for ourselves previously and evaluating how we’ve done. Last year, the A-Team laid out goals for Website & Technology, Events, Training, Financials, and Air Traffic Control. These goals are based on our shared experience and on feedback from the Member Survey we hold every two years. You can read more these goals in last year’s January Logan Informer.


The Climb, and Cruise: 2019’s Year


Once the flight gets underway, pilot workload dramatically decreases. Much like this article, portions of the cruise flight can get a little monotonous. The autopilot is probably on, the crew might be enjoying a nice beverage (perhaps even alcoholic, if we’re talking sim flights and you’re at least one year older than BVA!).


For our community, this is the time we execute on the goals we’ve set. The A-Team’s focus is on delivering high-quality, professional, and engaging experiences between pilots and air traffic controllers on the VATSIM network. It’s about offering great ATC coverage, exceptional service, and experiences that challenge and help us grow as pilots.


The biggest Website & Technology goal for the community was the replacement of our existing website and forums with a more modern, flexible system that could continue to support the community’s growth. Over the past year, we’ve implemented a new, forum-based website and migrated active user accounts to the new site. As of December 31, 2019, the community consists of 855 active members , each of whom has connected at least once over the course of the year. We’ve also launched the ATC Hub, an interactive one-stop portal for air traffic controllers to manage their training, take exams, access resources, and post to the ATC Timetable. We refreshed the Logan Informer and upgraded sending capability to ensure this monthly newsletter reaches more of our members. As part of the website upgrade we also refreshed and updated content and resources across several pages and removed some of the less-used legacy programs that you told us are no longer as relevant as they once were. Behind the scenes, we produced an extremely realistic Audio for VATSIM (AFV) configuration that uses the same radio range and locations that are available in real life. This means that when we have multiple controllers managing sectors of our airspace, the frequencies you reach will be a close reflection of what’s available in the actual airspace.


Events are one of the most important things we as a community do: they bring members together, offer exciting interactions with air traffic control, and provide unique learning opportunities for members of all experiences and ages. We ran more than 35 events over the course of the year, including some of VATSIM’s most unique. During Tea Party, members competed to win prizes from Aerosoft, HiFi, Orbx, QualityWings, RealityXP, REX, and Thrustmaster. At FlightSimExpo, members from around the world gathered, some meeting for the first time and others to see old friends. For 60 Hours of ATC we staffed up the airspace non-stop for more than 2 days and hosted one of our three FNOs of the year. We were selected by VATSIM to host an Audio for VATSIM (AFV) voice test, one of the few that were held outside of Europe. Our controllers’ dedication and our pilots’ support of these events allow us to produce some of the coolest and most unique pilot-ATC experiences on the network.


Providing free Training for members and VATSIM pilots has always been part of BVA’s history. Many of us began our online careers with just a passion for aviation. The resources and people of BVA have helped push people into flying, and—in some cases—careers in the global aviation industry. This year, we expanded our VATSIM-authorized training organization to issue all five pilot ratings (P1 through P5) and offered free Ground School instructional seminars to members.


As a 501(c)3 organization, BVA has various Financial reporting obligations to meet, and—most importantly—we need to ensure members who donate feel their money is being put to good use. To that end we welcomed Alec Liberman to the position of Treasurer this year. We continue to produce regular budgets to offer complete transparency on the use of member donations.


Finally, we set several goals to maintain our status as a leading Air Traffic Control organization on the VATSIM network. During the year, we streamlined our Advanced ATC Training to make it easier for students to become certified to work Boston positions and added additional resources and support for newer controllers. The changes helped us issue more than 100 certifications (a more than 30% increase from last year) while completing ATC certifications in less than 30 days on average.


To achieve all of this, the A-Team expanded to welcome Jamsheed Lovelace (LE), Austin Cirulli (RQ), and Nathan Rankin (RI). Josh Nunn (NU), who also joined us this last as Events Coordinator, recently left the A-Team to pursue some exciting “real-world” goals. We said goodbye also to Chris Olmstead (CO), who is leaving the A-Team in service to our country in Army Aviation. We wish them both the best. But, of course, the A-Team is just a small component of what makes BVA what it is. Our staff, including controllers, Mentors, Instructors, Member Support, and others volunteer their time to offer the best service and experiences to pilots from across the community and on the VATSIM network.


The Descent: Looking Ahead to 2020


In the descent, flight crews are reviewing arrival airport weather, planning their approach, and conducting the most challenging portion of a flight. For us here at BVA, the end of the year means reviewing the year that was and thinking about what the following year will look like. (For me, it also means writing this article!)


As has been the case for more than 20 years, the leadership of this community is tasked with maintaining and enhancing the quality and availability of air traffic control we provide to the community and the VATSIM network. We also want to provide the best tools, resources, and training to members of all experience levels.


Air Traffic Control


Providing great quality ATC starts with training: our staff of 12 Mentors and Instructors provide one-on-one and group training with the volunteer controllers who run our airspace. Because there is no prerequisite experience to become a controller on the network, you can imagine how busy this task keeps our volunteers!


In 2020, the ATC organization will:


  • Maintain our documentation (SOPs and LOAs) to offer a realistic on-network experience.
  • Maintain a 30-day average time to certification for controllers.
  • Add new Mentors to the Training Staff and promote at least one new Instructor.
  • Create an annual recurrent quiz for controllers to promote self-study and reflection.
  • Maintain an active roster of at least 80 home controllers.
  • Continue to engage habitually-inactive or outgoing controllers to determine barriers to activity and entry, especially at the OBS/S1 level.


Of course, technology plays an important role in the service controllers provide. In 2019, the VATSIM network launched AFV, the software that handles voice communication on the network. The increase in network usage and the continued growth of our organization means that the technology that supports our controllers must grow too. In 2020, the A-Team will:


  • Develop ATC videos and “how-to” software to streamline the training process.
  • Continue to update our technology as AFV rolls out to controller voice clients.
  • Improve our Cross the Pond facilities files, including squawk code banks and airspace splits, to make it easier for us to support VATSIM’s largest events.


Training & Membership


While the reverse isn’t always true, controllers can’t do anything without pilots. Providing great training resources for our pilot community has always been the key to attracting the stream of new members required to keep the organization growing.


For years, BVA’s Getting Started Guide has been the starting point for users who are new to online flying or the VATSIM network. However, the guide has fallen behind modern times, both in look and content. In 2020, the A-Team will re-create the guide with videos, X-Plane support, and modern content. We’ll also:


  • Refresh our YouTube channel with new videos.
  • Better integrate our Logan Informer with social media channels.
  • Conduct a Member Survey (this has historically happened every two years, with the most recent in 2018).
  • Re-write the Radio Communications page of the website with up-to-date examples.
  • Reach out to industry partners like Orbx to encourage the creation of high-fidelity scenery products for some of our smaller airports like Bradley or Burlington.




The unique, inspiring events we hold keep the community engaged, and allow us to showcase the member experience to the VATSIM network. Under the guidance of Austin Cirulli (RQ), who has recently taken on the Events Coordinator portfolio, the A-Team will: 


  • Maintain our consistent flow of 2-3 events each month, with 1 major event almost every month.
  • Aim to participate in both Eastbound and Westbound Cross the Pond events.
  • Continue to successfully host our most popular major events, including Tea Party, 60 Hours of ATC, FlightSimExpo, and at least 3 FNOs.


Website & Technology


The community’s new website and integrated ATC Hub has transformed the way we communicate with our members and train our controllers. We expect this to continue to be a central piece of the A-Team’s efforts this year, with several enhancements planned to the user experience:


  • Create automated verification methods to allow for single sign-on across BVA’s websites and social platforms, including Discord and TeamSpeak.
  • Improve the frontpage to make information about events and staffing more prominent.
  • Completely retire our legacy website.


The Arrival


After a long flight, there’s nothing like setting the parking brake and knowing you’ve made it to the destination. As 2019 ended, many of our members made time in busy holiday schedules to control, fly, and connect through Discord and TeamSpeak during the end of the year.


Over the past year we’ve achieved a lot together. The A-Team is incredibly proud of the amount of support and involvement we get from members across the community who volunteer in a variety of ways. In November, we posted for the A-Team position of Facilities Engineer. The response was humbling: we received 7 thought-out, well-written applications. The level of interest in giving back to the community helps make BVA what it is. We truly would not be here without you.


Of course, as soon as the brakes are on, you’re already thinking about the next time you get to experience the magic, or simulated magic, of flight. As we thought through our goals for 2020, there on the horizon was the upcoming release of Microsoft’s new flight simulator and what it might mean for the community and the simulation industry. It’s exciting to see what the renewed investment from the company that started it all might bring.


As we complete another flight and close the 2019 chapter of BVA’s storied history, we’ve already briefed our goals for 2020. It’s already time to release the brakes on another exciting year of technological improvement, quality and quantity increases in controlling, and engaging member interactions.


Happy New Year from all of us at the Administration Team. We thank you for the support, involvement, and excitement in 2019. And for 2020, we say: welcome aboard!





Evan Reiter

Community Director
Administration Team

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