Sunday, March 28, 2010

Captain Sim Announces Spring Sale

Captain Sim has just announced their spring sale! If you have been thinking about picking up their 757, 727, or 767 but were put off by the price tag, then this might be a good time to go ahead and pull the trigger. Prices on these (and other) Captain Sim products have been slashed, but only for a limited time...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flight Sim Labs, Ltd. Releases Concorde-X!

Well this one looks like a lot of fun!

Flight Sim Labs has rolled out their Concorde for FSX. Now we can take supersonic hops across the Big Pond at FL600! Woohoo! No more overnight transatlantic flights in the 747 at realtime speed... ;-)

Introductory price is €49.99, which is about US $67. A bit towards the upper end of the scale for a flight sim add-on, but I'll be anxious to find out if it's worth the money. Watch this space for a mini-review in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Goodies Coming Our Way!

Wow, how did I miss this one?

In a news post back in January, Terrence from McPhat Studios let slip hints of a couple more projects on the horizon. He's not telling us what they are, but he is naming names: CoolSky, Flight1, and feelThere. Hmmmm, wonder what they're cooking up?

I think a CoolSky Boeing 717 would be really nice, given the outstanding work they have done on the Super 80 and Super 80 Pro. They wouldn't need to change the external model much -- mainly just a shrink of the MD-80 -- but an all-glass cockpit like its big brother, the MD-11, would be a very nice development.

Then again, who knows? They might totally surprise us with something out of left field.

I've got no idea what feelThere! is cooking up, but something tells me we are due for another bizjet from them. But perhaps they might shock us and do a turboprop instead. That's what makes this so much fun...thinking about all the different possibilities.

Flight1 is truly a wildcard. I have no clue, as they are all over the place. Will be fun to see.

Also, an outfit called IRIS Simulations is supposedly working on a CRJ series. I will be watching this one with interest. They posted some previews of their models, which look nice. I am anxious to see how realistically they will model the CRJ systems.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bay Runway at JFK Closed for Reconstruction

If flying to or through New York's JFK Airport happens to be in your future planes, beware: one of the major runways at JFK, 13/31 (known as the "Bay Runway") is closing down for four months for reconstruction. This will mean even more delays at an already heavily congested airport. Airlines are supposedly revising their schedules accordingly.

Austin-Bergstrom (KAUS) on the Rebound?

2009 was a dismal year for many people and communities, in terms of the economy. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (KAUS) was most definitely not immune to all the economic turmoil over the last couple of years. The airport has lost (or will lose) direct flights to many places, including:
  • ExpressJet's "branded" operations to places like Albuquerque, Corpus Christi, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, Ontario, Tulsa.
  • American's suspension of several direct flights, including Seattle, Orange County, and the legendary "Nerd Bird" between Austin and San Jose. AmericanConnection (a legacy of the TWA merger) is also ending direct service to St. Louis, which is part of American's slow, painful dehubbing of that airport.
  • Continental Express nonstop service to Cleveland. (Though some might argue that isn't a great loss...) ;-)
  • Southwest Airlines direct service to Midland/Odessa and Philadelphia. The latter was an interesting experiment, but I was dubious that it would pan out. Nice to be correct on occasion.
  • AeroMexico (and later AeroLitoral or whatever they call themselves now) service to Mexico City.
  • Air Canada Jazz service to Toronto-Pearson. I had high hopes for this one...was disappointed it didn't fare better.
  • The whole "low cost terminal" experiment at the south end of ABIA, featuring VivaAerobus service to Cancun and Monterrey.
  • Delta/Delta Connection service to Cincinnati and New York-JFK. The latter was not a big deal, as JetBlue still flies to JFK.
  • United Express service to LAX. Again, no big deal, since both American and Southwest still fly there, or you could also take JetBlue to Long Beach.
  • US Airways Express (formerly America West) service to Las Vegas. Another one that is no great loss, since Southwest still flies there, too. US Airways also used to fly mainline to Phoenix, and that service has been reduced to RJ flights only now on US Airways Express. Austin no longer has any US Airways mainline flights.
However, perhaps there are signs of a turnaround? Just recently, there appears to be something of a revival in service to ABIA:
  • Alaska Airlines smelled an opportunity to get into the Austin market with the recent cutbacks by American last fall, and they appear to be doing well. They launched direct service to Seattle, and subsequently took over the "Nerd Bird" route between Austin and San Jose (with continuing service to Portland, OR). They will be adding a second daily "Nerd Bird" flight beginning next week.
  • ExpressJet's newest venture, "Branson AirExpress," will launch in May. They still have a bunch of spare ERJ's they haven't figured out how to utilize, so their latest idea is to try and connect low-cost vacation fliers around the region to the new airport in Branson, MO. I think it's an interesting idea, and I will be curious to see how it pans out.
  • Sun Country will launch seasonal service to Cancun in May. I think this is too lucrative a route to pass up. Tons of people in Texas go to Cancun for vacation, and the Austin market is definitely underserved on direct flights to Cancun. I don't think most of the legacy carriers have much interest in point-to-point service outside of their hubs, and international flights don't really fit into Southwest's business model, so a vacation/charter carrier like Sun Country is probably an ideal candidate for this route.
  • Weirdly, Delta Connection has just announced that they will restore service to Cincinnati. This strikes me as odd, as the general trend with Delta seems to be to de-hub Cincinnati (much the same way as US Airways in Pittsburgh about a decade ago) in favor of their newly-acquired ex-Northwest hub in Detroit. Seems to me that the only reason you would want to fly to Cincinnati anymore is if you were actually going TO Cincinnati. I'm not really sure what the Austin-Cincinnati connection is here, but more power to them!
So here is a quick rundown on the current state of service to and from ABIA, as well as any current or future FSX aircraft that could be used to realistically simulate the routes. (You knew I was going to work in a Flight Sim angle on this at some point, didn't you?) :-)
  • Alaska - San Jose (KSJC) and Seattle (KSEA). Usually uses B73Gs on both of these routes these days. PMDG's upcoming 737 NGX will be very, very nice for simulating these routes. Can't wait!
  • American - Chicago-O'Hare (KORD), Dallas/Fort Worth (KDFW), and Los Angeles (KLAX). Uses MD-80s (MD-82 or MD-83) on all of these. Alas, gone are the days when you would occasionally see an American 757 around KAUS, unless it's a diversion from KDFW. The Flight1/CoolSky Super80 Professional or Leonardo's Mad Dog are both excellent choices for these routes; I currently own the former.
  • Branson AirExpress - Branson (KBBG). ExpressJet will fly ERJ-145s on this route. Sadly, FSX actually predates the development of KBBG! (Anybody know of any good KBBG add-on scenery for FSX, or am I gonna have to constantly divert to KSGF due to the missing airport?) ;-) feelThere/Wilco's recent ERJv2 release will do an excellent job at simulating this route.
  • Continental - Houston-Intercontinental (KIAH) and Newark (KEWR). The Houston route gets a very eclectic mix of aircraft -- everything from the occasional B753 (the only "heavy" that regularly calls on KAUS, aside from the FedEx DC-10s and UPS A300s doing cargo runs) to almost any variety of 737NG (B73G, B738, B739) and even 737 Classics (B735). ExpressJet also flies some ERJs as Continental Express to KIAH. Newark also gets a variety of 737NGs and Classics, too. You can use the Captain Sim 757 to simulate the occasional 757. As for the 737s, the upcoming PMDG 737NGX will be great for simulating the NGs, while the feelThere/Wilco 737 PIC does a good job with the 737 Classic series. The feelThere/Wilco ERJv2 does nicely for the Continental Express flights.
  • Delta - Atlanta (KATL), Cincinnati (KCVG), Detroit (KDTW), Memphis (KMEM), Minneapolis (KMSP), and Salt Lake City (KSLC). Atlanta is the only place that gets mainline service with Austin these days, while all the rest are flown by Delta's regional partners. Delta flies 737s (B738) MD-80s (MD88) to Atlanta. ASA and Pinnacle also fly CRJ9s to Atlanta. Service to Cincinnati will apparently resume on a Comair CRJ, probably via one of their gazillion CRJ1 or CRJ2s. Mesaba does service to Detroit, Memphis, and Minneapolis on CRJ9s, while Pinnacle also picks up some Memphis flights on CRJ2s. SkyWest and Mesaba do runs to Salt Lake or CRJ9s. So, to make a short story long: the PMDG 737NGX will be great for the 737 mainline runs to Atlanta, as will the Flight1/CoolSky Super 80 Pro or the Leonard Mad Dog for the MD-80s. Regrettably, the only CRJ available for FSX is Wilco's rather underwhelming offering, but it's better than nothing. Hopefully someone will do a better CRJ in the future.
  • Frontier - Denver (KDEN). Frontier is an all-Airbus airline, and both A318s and A319s of theirs regularly call in Austin. Reportedly, Frontier may get rid of all their A318s in favor of larger A320s, so the days of flying the "Baby Bus" may be numbered. feelThere/Wilco's so-so Airbus Vol. 1 can be used to simulate this route, although maybe AirSimmer will get their act together and come up with something better. We can only hope!
  • JetBlue - Boston (KBOS), Fort Lauderdale (KFLL), Long Beach (KLGB), New York-JFK (KJFK), Orlando (KMCO), and San Francisco (KSFO). Currently running Embraer E190s on all of these, although occasionally Boston or New York get upgraded to an A320 on a seasonal basis. Austin is a bit of a mini-JetBlue base, serving as a convenient fuel stop on their cross-country E190 flights between Florida and California, while also providing Austin access to these markets as well. Win-Win! The feelThere/Wilco E-Jets is great for simulating the E190s, and the Airbus Vol. 1 for the A320 is better than nothing.
  • Southwest - Baltimore (KBWI), Chicago-Midway (KMDW), Dallas-Love (KDAL), Denver (KDEN), El Paso (KELP), Fort Lauderdale (KFLL), Harlingen/Rio Grande Valley (KHRL), Houston-Hobby (KHOU), Las Vegas (KLAS), Los Angeles (KLAX), Lubbock (KLBB), Nashville (KBNA), Oakland (KOAK), Orlando (KMCO), Phoenix (KPHX), San Diego (KSAN), and Tampa (KTPA). Biggest airline serving Austin, by far. They use 737s for all of these: both B73Gs, as well as older B733s and B735s. Once again, the PMDG 737NGX will be great for the B73Gs, while the Wilco 737 PIC is good for the Classic series. (Yeah, and I know about the fact that Southwest put steam gauges in all their Classics to make them look like their old B732s, which are all gone from their fleet now.)
  • Sun Country - Cancun (MMUN). Sun Country only has B738s. Cue the upcoming PMDG 737NGX for this one, too.
  • United - Chicago-O'Hare (KORD), Denver (KDEN), San Francisco (KSFO), and Washington-Dulles (KIAD). United is currently doing some more shuffling in Austin. They used to run mainline to Denver, but with competition from both Frontier and Southwest on that route, they had to downgrade it to RJ service. Now it seems they are feeling the pinch from Southwest in San Francisco, because that route is about to be downgraded to an RJ as well. On the flipside, they will be upgrading some of their flights to Washington-Dulles to mainline service. As they don't compete directly with Southwest there (Southwest flies to Baltimore instead), that one may actually fly. Bottom line: GoJet!, Mesa, and SkyWest all fly CRJ7s to Chicago-O'Hare as United Express. Shuttle America also flies E170s there as well. Mesa and GoJet fly CRJ7s to Denver, while SkyWest uses CRJ2s there, and Shuttle America uses E170s. SkyWest will be taking over the San Francisco service, probably on CRJ7s. United mainline is now an all-Airbus fleet (A319s and A320s), as they retired all their 737 Classics last year -- so Washington-Dulles will be served by one of these. From a simmer perspective, the Wilco CRJ can sim the CRJs, the feelThere/Wilco E-Jets can sim the E170, and the Wilco Airbus Vol. 1 can sim the A319/A320.
  • US Airways - Charlotte (KCLT), Phoenix (KPHX). Mesa actually flies CRJ9s to both of these. Once again, the Wilco CRJ will do here.
Ultimately, if you like flying 737s and CRJs, Austin is the ideal station for you! The upcoming 737NGX from PMDG will be a godsend for accurate simulation of operations at Austin. I just wish somebody would do a CRJ of equal quality. (There is some reason to believe PMDG may have some interest in doing one someday...let's hope!)

Interestingly, Austin has no scheduled passenger turboprop service. Typical of a mid-size market that is not an airline hub, but quite a contrast to someplace like PDX.