Threshold Review: Flightbeam’s Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport for MSFS
November 5, 2023
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (KMSP) is a joint civil-military public-use international airport serving the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area in the Upper Midwestern United States, with a yearly average of 31.2 million passengers, making it the 18th busiest in the country by passenger traffic.
The airport was built on top of a decommissioned race track (Twin City Speedway) in 1919, so "Speedway Field" was its first name. The first bit of infrastructure was built a year later: a wooden hangar for airmail services. It was in the late 1920s that passenger services would begin, right after the ownership was handed over to the Minneapolis Park Board.
The first terminal was built in the late 1950s, with 56,000 square meters of total area and 24 gates on two concourses, all designed by Lyle George Landstrom from Cerny Associates. Completion was reached in January 1962, and its official opening happened a few days later. Pier D (now Concourse G) was completed in 1971 and Pier A in 1972, both part of an expansion program from Cerny Associates. The project also involved a partial rebuild into bi-level structures with holding rooms and jet bridges.
Concourse G underwent expansion in 1986, including the airport's first moving walkway. Then, in 2002, Concourse A and B were opened, part of a 200 million dollar expansion program designed by Architectural Alliance, a Minneapolis-based company.
Terminal 2 (the "low-cost terminal") was built in 1986 and rebuilt in 2001, featuring 14 gates as of 2023. It houses the local Sun Country, Southwest, Condor, Icelandair, and JetBlue.
A few decades ago, there was pressure from the locals to move the airport elsewhere due to aircraft noise. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul councils felt like it could negatively affect the region's economy and proposed installing sound insulation and air conditioning on every home in the vicinity of the airport. After many decades of constant kerfuffling and setbacks due to the economic situation in the early 2000s, the noise mitigation program finally reached completion in 2014, with more than 15,000 single-family homes and 3,303 multi-family units soundproofed, costing around $95 million.
As things currently stand, MSP has two terminals, with 131 gates in total (Terminal 1 with 117 and Terminal 2 with 14).
It houses a joint air reserve station, with 3000 men across two units (934th Airlift Wing and 133d Airlift Wing, from the Air Force Reserve Command and the Minnesota Air National Guard, respectively).
It's a hub for Delta Air Lines, Sun Country Airlines, and Bemidji Airlines. Aer Lingus, Air Canada Express, Air France, Alaska Air, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, American Eagle, Condor, Denver Air Connection, Frontier Airlines, Icelandair, JetBlue, KLM, Lufthansa (mid-2024), Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, United Express, and WestJet also serve it.
Flightbeam's virtual rendition promises an up-to-date ground layout, high-resolution textures, dynamic jetways with custom signage, custom ground textures, key interior areas, a dense amount of custom objects, and performance-friendly optimization.
Aside from a rare exception, I like to fly into the airport I'm reviewing instead of loading right in, looking around, and calling it a day. Even though the latter would undoubtedly take a lot less time and effort, it is generally different from how an airport is meant to be enjoyed. I'm not going to play the enjoyment police here, though. To each their own, am I right? The route of choice this time around was a short hop from Chicago Midway with a Southwest 737-800 straight to Terminal 2.
It was not exactly what I had in mind for the first route, to be reasonably honest: from the moment I got the review copy, I already envisioned flying a Delta 737-800 from Detroit, but, much to my surprise - or perhaps ignorance -, Delta does not use the 738 at all in MSP (they use the 737-900ER). While I could have flown the 738, given it's a simulator and we can do whatever we want, I generally like to be as realistic as possible within what is feasible, even if that means not flying the route I wanted.
Albeit gutted, flying Southwest instead is not a deal breaker, so the flight was enjoyable (and very snowy). Whether it was Asobo's weather engine assuming there was snow, I will never know (I didn't bother to look it up because the truth could potentially ruin my immersion). If Asobo says it's snowy, snow it is!
Weather shenanigans aside, the approach was beautiful (the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area looks particularly good in MSFS), with a firm but not rough landing into 30L and straight into stand H7 (if my memory doesn't fail me). Okay, it's not quite straight as you have to turn left onto another taxiway that leads to Terminal 2, but you get the idea.
That brief taxi already provided me with a glimpse of what I was about to conclude: MSP is very detailed, just as one would expect from Flightbeam. It is not their first tango, after all.
While deboarding, I switched to the drone camera to look around, and suddenly, I decided I wanted to buy the 737-900, just for the sake of realistically using the Delta terminal. Oh, my poor wallet! Just the thing I didn't want to do! But reviewing a DAL hub without doing DAL stuff feels wrong. While it's perfectly possible and would not compromise the core content, it's weird not to have a single screenshot of a Delta plane.
Modeling / Texturing
The 3D modeling is good, yielding a very realistic-looking environment, and the texturing is the cherry on top, adding weathering to the jetways, ground, walls, and everything. The airside experience is solid overall.
The interiors look good from afar, with nice depth. When you scooch in closer with the drone camera, you realize it's mostly a placeholder and sometimes even unclippable (it teleports you to the roof). From the cockpit, though, it looks like a full-blown terminal with many passengers, television screens, and shiny things here and there. Refer to the pictures below to see what I mean by that:
While fully custom interiors are amazing to look at and a happy addition to any scenery, they come at a - performance - cost that can't be ignored. Most of the time, when given the chance (not every scenery allows you to do that), I disable the interiors. Flightbeam's take on interiors is that they look great from the cockpit, but when you move the drone camera inside, it isn't as impressive as you might think. Then again, it's not Microsoft Passenger Simulator.
The custom clutter is everywhere and properly reproduced, especially the Delta Air Lines stuff: plenty of realistically weathered DAL baggage carts with advertisements that read "Most nonstop flights from MSP," "The most equipped wi-fi," and so on, just as you would expect to see in real life. The unbranded clutter is just as good, with many vans, pick-up trucks, and fire brigade vehicles (one even followed me to my stand for some reason). It doesn't use any default clutter items, which is refreshing. Ground clutter is more important than people may think when it comes to increasing the immersion factor.
The weathering on the ground, especially around the stands, is superb, with lots of dirt, oil, rubber, and whatever else you'd expect an airport ground to have, with seemingly random wear patterns instead of just a repetition of the same dirty blob. The jetways are equally worn out, which would make sense, as jetways don't stay pristine forever. The abuse inflicted by snow and rain is hard to contain, after all.
The attention to detail is evident around the terminal, with many warning labels, trash cans, and little stuff that often goes unnoticed, like the Delta sign to fasten the seatbelts on a little fence. While seemingly minor, it could be the difference between feeling there or not when looking around.
The consistency is maintained when one veers outside of the terminals, with nice-looking hangars, cargo handling buildings, maintenance areas, car parks, and so on. Every bit of MSP appeared to get love from the developer. After all, it was built in cooperation with airport officials.
What bugs me the most is how, despite packing all of that in, it only occupies 1.23 GB when installed (the average payware scenery out there is well above 3 GB). Talk about file size optimization!
The lighting around the airport is realistically done, not overly bright or dark. That balance is often hard to achieve.
The taxiways are also well-illuminated, making night taxiing a breeze. If one gets lost, it's not because of the lighting.
Test System: 32 GB RAM, Ryzen 7 3700X, Nvidia RTX 3080 10 GB, 1 TB SSD (non-NVMe).
Despite being a mega airport, it runs like your average airport out there, with no sudden load spikes when looking around, no stutters on approach, and overall a very solid frametime despite running my GPU at 70-85% power depending on how hot the weather is (my airflow is terrible so I can't run my GPU at full power when it's hot).
The performance will vary greatly depending on your hardware and graphics settings, and one has to consider that the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area is very intensive from a photogrammetric standpoint, making the optimization work very impressive.
I've flown into the airport under different weather conditions, and it has remained remarkably consistent as far as performance goes.
Flightbeam's KMSP is a solid rendition of the airport, striking an outstanding balance between quality and performance, making very few compromises. It's a great addition to Microsoft Flight Simulator, especially for Delta and Sun Country fans.
Retailing for $19.99, it's pretty much a steal, considering its size, quality, and relevance. As the 18th busiest airport in the United States, route variety is not a problem, and they even have a local airline to call their own. For long-haul appreciators, Delta does not disappoint with their route offering, taking Minnesota folk to Tokyo Haneda, Seoul Incheon, and London Heathrow.
Thank you to Flightbeam Studios for providing us with a review copy!
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