Merry Christmas. I'm going to scream

Hello all,

A very festive Festivus season to all of you. I recently celebrated my 15th anniversary on VATSIM, almost all of it with significant time as a controller.

We’ve gotta talk.

It’s not about pilot quality, it’s not about knowledge gaps, and it’s not about a new PowerPoint we could put together and try to make people read before they login to the network.

After about the last 5-6 sessions, I’ve noticed that the average number of clearances given to get any readback has been hovering between 2 and 2.5.
4 frequency change instructions given, nobody there, and then an indignant transmission asking why they hadn’t been given a frequency change?

Not paying attention at all, calling constantly on a busy frequency for taxi/clearance/pushback - not a problem except when you have 10 airborne airplanes in a busy terminal airspace and are issuing instructions the entire time.

Not listening. The problem is they aren’t listening. I hear Twitch streams in the background, Discord voice, TV shows, movies, etc.

It’s tough to keep positive about this. I don’t like being the bad guy, but after all 10 airplanes today had a 10-15% first call response rate, violated altitudes and routes left and right, had hissy fits about runway assignments, and generally everyone required some degree of coaching or “I don’t have time for this” responses - I know I’d give me some bad feedback if I heard it.

But - 15 years and thousands of hours still seem to leave me remarkably incapable of coming up with a solution. How can I control aircraft if they aren’t listening? How can I coach and correct as necessary if they aren’t only violating clearances left and right, not reading back instructions, but are also not paying attention, and not listening to the frequency at all? Now - take all of that and add a 3 minute call-in on the ground, jamming the frequency, from an aircraft told to standby multiple times? Missing clearances, reading them back entirely wrong 3-4 times, direct to random fixes, refusing procedures - just overall a lack of seriousness and attention to the most basic of details that has never been this bad.

This is getting increasingly impossible. I hate myself for the resentment, yet, I have no words, and no suggestions. An hour feels like six, an event feels like a month in jail.

This isn’t burnout - I’ve been there, done that; this is something I think every S3+ rated controller has been dealing with for a substantial time now. I genuinely don’t have a solution and I’m very curious to hear anyone’s ideas, but I don’t know how we address this.

So here I am, hat in hand. I’m beyond the point of handwringing, making excuses, or hoping that the lingering brain fog from the 45 minutes of mind-bending antics will erase my short-term memory.

What can be done? I’m afraid we are in peak Tragedy of the Commons mode and I don’t know how we right the ship, to ensure I’ve mixed enough metaphors here.

If this post goes well I’m gonna open a Substack.

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Matthew,

As a controller and pilot on the network myself, I have also noticed many of the items that you have mentioned. These situations are certainly a concern of mine as VP Supervisors as they pose an incredible disruption to others on the network. Such disruptions are a top priority of mine to work to resolve. There are a few items in the works to hopefully improve pilots paying attention to include Code of Conduct updates & additional focus from Supervisors. While the influx of new participants on the network in recent years is great in expanding our hobby, we have noticed a shift in culture that is ultimately detrimental to what we try to achieve on the network. A true solution will ultimately it will require a shift in culture and mentality.

One item to note that have noticed personally is that there seems to be a divide in the community with the communication platforms used. Those who have been on the network longer tend to use the forums while those newer to the network tend to use our Discord. I highly recommend joining the VATSIM Community Discord to help minimize that divide and bring knowledge to those who are newer to the community. Those interested can visit https://community.vatsim.net/ to join.

I do also want to briefly discuss a potential factor that increases pilots stepping on each other. By default, frequencies are not cross coupled. This means that pilots only hear those within their range. Pilots on the ground have the shortest range. Depending on the size of the area you work top down, pilots may simply not be aware they are stepping on someone else as they cannot hear the pilot transmitting. In AFV, clicking the “XC” button cross couples frequencies and essentially allows all pilots on your frequency to hear each other. While not realistic, it can significantly reduce workload and makes top down ATC more manageable. When I work ZNY top down I typically keep the frequency not cross coupled until people start stepping on each other fairly often. I’m not sure if you are aware of this option so I wanted to mention it in case.

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No answer, but I have been rebuked by a controller for talking over the top, yet I heard nothing. There are factors in the defence of some pilots, but with the onslaught of MSFS and its target audience it isn’t going to get better fast. It needs a lot of patience by everyone. A controller is not obliged, contracted, nor expected to be online in all circumstances. I know I simply disconnected once when a bunch of pilots banded together and made life hell for me. I also had occasions where pilots implied refused to follow instructions. But hey, no one dies, and no one gets injured. Don’t own the acts of others.

Well said. It’s especially bad during the conga lines of streamer fans who are flying along creating increased volume and complexity for controllers while at the same time watching their streamer and not paying attention.

Please, either fly along with your favorite streamers, OR watch them. Do not do both. Even the best multi-taskers won’t do it well enough for vatsim.

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To follow up, as a first step, I have updated the CoC Companion Document to add a paragraph under CoC B3(a). We’ll still work on a formal update to the CoC itself, but the Companion Document helps explain the CoC in plain English and covers not just the text of the CoC, but also the intent.

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I’m not a controller, but I have been on VATSIM for a little bit of time and amassed some 16000hrs on the network.

I hear your frustrations and I agree with them 100%. For some of us, we try our best to follow and readback the controllers instructions, and 99% of the time, we are professional and competent. With the advent of MSFS, which has in most parts positively impacted this hobby, but it has it’s downsides.

There has been a mass of new pilots (good thing), but some of these newbies haven’t acclimatised themselves with the rules and procedures required. When I was a newbie, I didn’t just jump into a PMDG 747 on FS9 and go to Heathrow and fly. I sat at an airport, tuned into the frequencies and listened and learned. I read what information was available at my Virtual Airline and on VATSIM.

Today is a lot different from my novice days. We are living in a generation that wants it quick and fast and to hell with reading the guides available. Sorry to say new pilots, this ain’t Call of Duty or GTA where you can just go from the beginning.

Being competent on VATSIM is more of a skill, than racking up a 30 kill streak on COD.

But the blame can’t all be put at the door of incoming MSFS generation, there are some “old and bold” pilots on VATSIM, that should know better and be well versed in the workings and what is required. You hear the veterans of VATSIM losing it, when they haven’t had a clearance request and being told to standby for the umpteenth time, because the controllers workload is high controlling by having to repeat numerous requests for this and that to others who aren’t listening or dare say it, choose not too.

Then there are the controllers themselves… Some rattle off the instructions so quick and never give you time to respond in the 0.1 seconds they given you and they get in no better terms available annoyed. Some FIR controllers probably take on too bigger sectors with no local/ground cover and then wonder why it’s busy, and you can hear on the frequency their blood pressure going through the roof, before they strop off and rage quit.

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Hi Nick
Thanks for updating the CoC Companion Document, which everyone should read along the original Coc naturally.
From a controllers viewpoint especially §B3(b) is annoying. The mere existance of the paragraph makes many pilots (despite the wording in the Companion document) think it is ok to leave the cockpit unattented. When I as controllers has to call the supervisor, the supervisor need to let the pilot continue for even longer time before the supervisor eventually disconnects the pilot. In many cases the time between first attempt to contact the pilot and the disconnection is so long that the plane traverses a good deal of the FIR in question (Denmark in my context). I can understand the pilots flying longhaul may need to have a break, but often this happens with pilots flying between destination 1-3 hours apart. For such brief flight a near zero patience would be nice. Having to tell the SUP that it is 5 minutes since first attempted contact and he the waits for further 10 minutes before a disconnect is made is too long in my view. The only way to make these pilots learn the CoC is unfortunately the hard way. I nearly always accept pilots’ request for leaving the cockpit for a short period. This is no big problem for me, but the neglect of complying to contact the controller is really a pain. A lot of mental energy could be made to better use, than having to repeatedly try to make contact with these pilots. Sometimes the SUP asks if the plane is conflicting with other traffic. As if a negative answer to this somehow makes it acceptable to the SUP, that a pilots hasn’t made contact to the controller. But this is not so in my view and only legimizes the behavoir of the pilots to avoid contacting the controller.

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People learn via entertainment and video now, not reading manuals or PowerPoints. VATSIM needs to get some powerful influencers behind them cranking out live streams and videos (doing things correctly). It’s also a great opportunity to highlight bad pilots on frequency when they hear them.
Post editing and taking a few seconds to highlight mistakes in an entertaining way would work well. Just a quick buzzer or funny sound is enough.

I think a lot of new users have VATSIM confused as a multiplayer gaming platform, rather than a simulation network… or can’t differentiate the two.
There’s some influencers like SWISS001 and AIRFORCEPROUD95 who are entertaining specifically for doing things wrong, but VATSIM really needs to compete with positive influencers such as Jeff Favignano or A330 Driver (for example), using proper protocol and taking it seriously. Avoiding the boring instructional format.
I’ve watched Navigraph and others trying to teach people VATSIM and almost fell asleep. It’s slow and painful and brings back bad memories of Sporty’s Pilot Shop VHS tapes.

If we want to teach new users how things should be done, then stop telling them and start showing them. Entertainment is the way people seek knowledge now. Different times we are in.

Happy New Year!

Bob Donovan

PS - I did mean to point out that I agree watching videos and doing other things while flying is causing most of these missed ATC calls. There should be a disclaimer “don’t watch these videos while connected”. :wink:

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Good points about using influencers and video to help teach pilots the right way. It’s so much harder to keep people engaged just through written guides and instructions these days. Having entertaining content that models the proper behavior could really help shift the culture. And you’re right, any videos used for learning should definitely come with a disclaimer not to watch while flying online. Could be a really effective way to bring more pilots up to speed if done right.

Hi Torben, yes we will be reviewing the Code of Conduct as a whole, to include B3(b).

Thanks, Happy New Year, BTW.

Hello,
What you write here is indeed the biggest frustration for a lot of controllers even until the point of just quiting ATC.
We can only hope that Vatsim start some kind of campaign to make pilots aware of this. Just to drill some common sense into pilots like not going AFK in parts of the world where it’s peak time like Friday evening at 2000LT, just don’t do anything else than listen to ATC if you hear that the area is very busy and try to make a mental picture of the situation around you or ask to go AFK before doing it, with the number of minutes you will be away and adhere to it.
Having an ATCO repeat him/her self for each pilot 5 times can make the situation for the ATCO from doable to absolutely impossible to handle.
I’m involved in the contolling part from the Satco days and it’s never been so bad as now and I think if they don’t do anything soon about it we end up with no more ATC willing to do this.

E.

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I think the solution is obvious. After the 2.5 missed calls by the pilot, just let them go. Eventually they will try to contact you. Let them try to contact you 2.5 times, before responding, then explain what they did, then pull them out of line to re-sequence them. That might be enough of a ‘turnabout is fair play’ moment to make an impact.

It’s not just an ATC frustration. There are times I as a pilot I want to jump through the computer monitor and slap an inattentive pilot. We all miss the occasional call, but it’s just as infuriating as a pilot to hear some joker miss repeated calls on a busy frequency when it’s already hard to get a word in edgewise.

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Torben, I get what you are saying and of course there are exceptions to what I am about to say here. But the inability to leave my connection for 5-15 minutes unattended (while obviously stating this written on Unicom) would effectively mean that I could never fly on VATSIM at all. When I fly, especially longer trips (anything +2 hours) I often have to do some chores at home while flying or I have my kids at home, meaning that I have to be able to respond to them also. This means that I have to be able to leave my computer occasionally for anything between 5-20 minutes. If I had to log off every time, it would make my flight be a blinking lightshow for everyone else and probably even more confusing for any upcoming controller.

Also, even though how much we want this to be as realistic as possible, we still need to keep in mind that this is a hobby. It is not work and it is not real. So, if you as a controller have an unresponsive plane on you radar, it might hurt realism and immersion, but it doesn’t hurt any person or otherwise.

My take is it, if it was me as a controller, I would call the plane 2-3 times, depending on workload and then just leave the plane be with a written message to contact me when able and then give my full attention to the responsive planes. That’s it.

But bottom line. If we got a scenario where pilots cannot leave their planes for shorter trips while on Unicom, I might as well just say goodbye to VATSIM, because it would by no means rhyme with my personal situation.

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As stated on the CoC you may leave the cockpit for some time while in uncontrolled airspace. The moment I log on as controller covering that area, it is no longer uncontrolled as thus you need to answer the controller right away - we can probably agree on that. The question arises on how you can abide the CoC being away from the cockpit in (now) controlled airspace. In reality you can’t. That’s why we have this “rubber” paragraph in VATSIM. What I experience on VATSIM is an increasing number of pilots unwilling/unable/unresponcive and not only on the enroute part of their journey, but pilots starting their descend into e.g. Copenhagen while still not contacting me. Even on our weekly Vector to Copenhagen this happens with a lot of traffic (often more that EKCH experiences in real life) in the Copenhagen area.
If you are a single plane enroute that’s not a big deal, but the amount of unattentive pilots have gone mad. We regularily need to repeat our communications several times because of pilots not paying attention and when we then also have to use time and energy either trying to contact pilots or supervisors, it is not that fun to be a controller on VATSIM.
If you heard the ping that a controllers wants to contact you, please respond and ask for 5 min out of cockpit, if that’s needed. Then I can plan to divert traffic around you. But if you’re more engaged to playing with your children (or streaming videoes or what ever) then I’d rather see you fly less on VATSIM. No it doesn’t hurt any people if they collide on vatsim. But why fly on VATSIM, if you don’t fly on VATSIM in reality? (Not talking on toilet break or getting a cup of coffee here). Why not fly offline the entire trip? The experience offline is the same, as flying online when you aren’t willing to talk to the controller?
I have a strong suspicion that many fly online on vatsim as many virtual airlines require them to do so, in order to get hours on their CV. It would be nice if the partner VAs would look into this.
Sorry, Michael - if I sound a bit harsh here. I have naturally gathered a lot of examples here, which happily doesn’t apply every time I control. But we are having difficulties on recruting controllers - and if we aren’t needed, because pilots rather not interacts with us, then you’ll find yourself in an environment, where uncontrolled airspace is the norm. Then why VATSIM?
Perhaps BeyondATC or the likes (inbuild atc) is the way to go for you. My goal is to interact with people, when I fly or control. That should be everyone goal on VATSIM.

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I guess what I am aiming for here is to find a reasonable good middle ground. Obviously the norm has to be that when controllers are online, you interact with them. Just like you interact with other pilots on Unicom. I do not dispute that or want to change that.
But there also needs to be some leeway so that this rule doesn’t become too strict. I think that VATSIM should make it mandatory that you write on Unicom when you leave the aircraft while on Unicom, so that any controller that may come online has a chance to figure out what that unresponsive plane is doing.
But there certainly also needs to be plenty of room for people not having to sit at their computer throughout the entire flight, even when it is a relatively short flight.
I am however completely unsure about how you ability to divert traffic around a plane should be more hindered by the plane being unresponsive.

I have honestly begun to fly less and less on VATSIM (or IVAO, for that matter) and use Pilot2ATC instead, simply because I cannot devote my undivided attention towards VATSIM for several hours. That is simply not possible. But I would rather fly on VATSIM.

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Micheal I simply wish to say well said. Keep your voice, and don’t feel that you need to leave please.

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Honestly, Michael. Would you like to expand on, why you’d rather fly on VATSIM without obligations to return to the cockpit, when a controller is present, than flying offline. What good does it do to you, compared to the annoyance you give atc, having to spend time trying to call you or diverting traffic around you?
I simply don’t get it.

Nick,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You were at ZNY at the same time I was at ZBW, so I know you’re used to a… questionable pilot quality as am I. This is just so far outside the norm, something will have to change long-term, or we are going to continue to see controller attrition and reduced participation by competent pilots. It’s even more frustrating when the competent pilots catch strays - by the 10th aircraft not responding, even the slightest hint of non-compliance is getting the flamethrower.
I do XC regularly, sometimes I forget if taking over a position, but the real offenders were on the ground at MSP. They’re a couple hundred feet from our primary tranceiver - I should be able to reach them with a walkie talkie from a Happy Meal lol.
I will pass on the Discord - I’m active in the VATUSA one in that I occasionally pass by around the same schedule as Halley’s Comet. It’s mostly irrelevant to the day-to-day of controlling and I don’t find any of the conversations being had there to be impactful to me.

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