The Rise Of Virtual Airlines

September 25, 2022

It was not long after flight simulation became accessible to the mass public that virtual airlines began to appear. Early virtual airlines started to appear throughout the 1990s, some of which are even in operation today. Virtual Airlines expanded on a global scale with the rise of the internet and the accessibility it brought with it. As the early 2000s went on VA’s began to gain traction with thousands of members. One of the largest VAs which is still in operation today for example is FlyUK which was built from the remains of Thomsonfly Virtual in 2004. 

Photo: FlyUK

So who are the big hitters in today's flight simulation world? you may wonder...

Similarly to real life, some of the most popular Virtual Airlines among flight simulator enthusiasts are virtual low-cost carriers, whose operations are replicated by thousands of members. vRYR or Ryanair Virtual are one of the biggest virtual airlines in Europe, boasting a pilot intake of over 220 new pilots every month! vRYR at last publically available count has over 21,000 members and climbing. Similarly to vRYR, Southwest Virtual Airlines also boast astonishing membership numbers, in-house training departments, full-scale staff and management teams along with thousands of routes for virtual pilots to fly.

Photo: Cristian Lonescu

It seems to me in researching various virtual airlines while writing this, that those who replicate the operations of airlines such as Ryanair, Southwest and Jet2 are popular due to their ability to combine both long and short-haul flights along with being the most commonly used airlines among the general public. This kind of virtual airline also covers both sides of the sim world, both for Pilots who like quick-turn trips when they have some time while also catering to those who enjoy longer flights.

Photo: Trellux

The largest period of growth to date for virtual airlines has without a doubt been through the COVIID-19 pandemic. Speaking to Lukas Jankauskas from popular Virtual airline group Vamsys who own VRYR he explained “ Through the period of the pandemic numerous internal records were broken such for example; Number of flights completed and members joined” He went on to explain that other factors have also contributed to the dramatic increase in Virtual Airline numbers over the last few years, such as; “the adoption of Microsoft Flight Simulator and the release of aircraft like the PMDG 737 for MSFS”

Photo: BusDriverLKN

The vast majority of us who love flight simulation enjoy following real-world procedures, real-world operations and in general just keeping everything as realistic as possible. Virtual Airlines show a big appeal to simulation enthusiasts like this, they can provide realistic documentation, rank structures and a community feeling. It's my personal opinion that since rising to popularity, Virtual Airlines have contributed to Virtual Aviation in great ways, and I am excited to see what the future holds for them. 

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