Threshold Review: Orbx’s Stockholm Arlanda Airport for MSFS
June 22, 2023
Stockholm Arlanda is an international airport serving Metropolitan Stockholm in Sweden with a yearly average of 26 million passengers. It is the busiest airport in the country and the third in Scandinavia, after Oslo and Copenhagen.
It is the gateway for international air travel for most of Sweden, which is the case of the developer himself, Marcus Nyberg, who partnered up with Jetstream Designs to develop this virtual rendition of Arlanda: "It's also the gateway to all adventures I've been on outside Sweden: as a kid to travel abroad on vacations to when I finished high school and went to Australia, and everything since then and in between. It's a place where adventures start for me", he said on Orbx's forum thread about the scenery's development, which we have followed closely since its inception in late 2022.
The airport was built in the late 50s and opened in 1962, replacing Stockholm Bromma as the main international airport and eventually becoming a major domestic airport over the following decades. Unlike Bromma, it didn't have runway length constraints or capacity issues, attracting airlines from all over.
Linjeflyg was the first domestic airline to embrace Arlanda in 1983. Seven years later, two new domestic terminals were built, and one was pretty much abandoned because the traffic didn't increase as much as they thought it would. In 1993, said terminal was repurposed for international traffic, and the main domestic and international terminals were renumbered (into 4 and 5).
With the traffic growth came the need for a third runway, built between 1998 and 2002. People under its flight path protested a lot, leading them to only use that extra runway during peak hours for "environmental reasons."
Twelve years later, Swedavia - the airport's operator - felt the need to expand the terminals again, constructing an additional pier on Terminal 5 to accommodate the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8. Construction started a year later, in 2015.
There are four terminals in total, and three in use, with no real separation between domestic and international flights due to the pandemic. The pre-COVID "layout" had Terminal 2 for international traffic, Terminal 3 for regional domestic, Terminal 4 for Domestic and International, and Terminal 5 for domestic and international.
It's a hub for Scandinavian Airlines and Eurowings Europe and a focus city for Finnair, Norwegian Air Sweden, and Ryanair. London is the most popular European destination, with nearly 2 million passengers shared between Heathrow and Gatwick, followed by Copenhagen with 1,394,000.
The scenery features an accurate rendition of Arlanda, with animated jetways, VDGS, terminal interiors, custom ground service equipment, weather-influenced snowbanks, a high-resolution mesh, and a custom GSX profile.
The scenery is distributed through OrbxDirect, where users can automatically install the airport and enable/disable features such as custom traffic, ground clutter, snowbanks, etc., to get better performance.
My "modus operandi" when trying out a new scenery for the first time always involves flying into it from another airport instead of loading right in. As such, I didn't know what to expect other than it was Stockholm. Having flown into the hand-crafted ESSA before, the first thing that caught my eye was the overall quality of the runway/taxiway textures, which also extended to the buildings when I taxied out of Runway 01R into W towards my stand. This is the first time I have seen such a detailed Arlanda, not that we had many renditions in the past, to begin with.
The older Arlanda (for FSX and P3D) was Marcus' first payware project, released seven years ago. It was pretty good back then, but scenery development techniques evolved, and it felt dated compared to what P3D had to offer in recent years. While his original ESSA aged, Nyberg worked hard to develop more sceneries for P3D and MSFS, becoming one of the most popular names in the scenery development niche.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement of an MSFS version excited everyone: Nyberg's work for MSFS has been stellar as of late, and Arlanda desperately needed the Nyberg touch.
The terminals follow his design philosophy: a high-detail airside representation and low-detail yet present and accurate terminal interiors. Given the quality of what we can see from the pilot's seat, one could say it's a fair trade-off: the textures are sharp, the clutter is properly spread around, and every signage is fully readable, be it a small warning sign or an advertisement, it's all there.
The immersion is unparalleled: from the moment you capture the localizer and begin your descent towards the runway to the moment you park at the stand and turn your engines off, it screams authenticism. The textures have a lot of wear and tear, genuinely selling the idea of an old terminal. On the other hand, the newer terminals look as you would expect: new. The color accuracy is also bang on, making it quite photorealistic.
The care and attention extended to the many hangars around the airport, featuring realistic wear and tear and convincing clutter around their vicinity.
The modeling is quite good, with understandable compromises here and there for the sake of performance but done in a way that does not affect the overall quality. It's something one should come to expect, given the sheer size of the airport. Compared to the Asobo one, it's night and day.
Night Lighting, when terribly implemented, could ruin an otherwise great scenery. It is not the case with Arlanda: light sources are realistically placed, brightness is convincing, delivering an authentic night flying experience without performance compromises.
The Arlanda Sky City, though, is where it truly - quite literally - shines. It sure is a pretty digital rendition of the famous mall. It almost makes you want to stop by for a cappuccino before heading out on a new journey.
Like Uncle Ben once said, with big airports comes great performance impact or something along those lines. My CPU isn't powerful for today's standards (Ryzen 7 3700X), so I was worried about how it would deal with such a large airport. I had everything enabled, including the VDGS, which was a terrible idea, especially on a busy morning on VATSIM. The approach was fine, but once I vacated the runway and got onto W, my framerate dipped to the mid-low 20s.
After researching a little and chatting with friends who own the scenery, I found the culprit: Nool VDGS and the ground traffic. Disabling that made it run fantastically, on par with most sceneries. Scarily smooth at times, even. If you are also rocking an older - IPC limited - CPU, I recommend uninstalling the Nool module, yielding around 7-8 extra frames.
Nool shenanigans aside, it runs superbly well for its size, with negligible dips that hardly compromise the overall experience. And the drops only happen on the ground when they do, meaning the approach is generally very stable.
It's relatively light on the GPU side, with my RTX 3080 happily churning framerate while not putting in too much work in 2560x1440.
Overall, Arlanda performs as your average big airport would, no surprises there, aside from the aforementioned VDGS performance issue that might affect people not running a 5800X3D of sorts or equivalent.
With an airport of such scale, it's common for pesky elevation issues to appear, which is the only downside (in my opinion). Runway 01R has a downward slope right on the aim point, which often does not correspond to the callouts, leading to misjudgment of your actual altitude in relation to the runway and making it relatively challenging to land smoothly.
At first, I thought it was a skill issue, but upon consulting other people, it turns out it does make landing smoothly a challenge and a half. Then again, it could be how it is in real life.
Nyberg's gateway to the world was superbly encapsulated in this rendition for Microsoft Flight Simulator, with great texturing and modeling, evidencing how much love and care was poured into the project. It's hands down the best rendition of Arlanda the world has ever seen.
Look no further if one wants more authenticity than the freely available hand-crafted Arlanda. It's an upgrade through and through, be it the ground layout, the terminals, or the overall conjuncture.
It is reasonably priced for its size and relevance at roughly $24 at the time of writing. Being the 3rd busiest airport in Scandinavia and the main gateway to Sweden, there is an insane variety of routes, airlines, and aircraft. It is the perfect European "hub" to base your virtual flight operations on. Click here to check out the product page.
A huge thank you to Orbx for providing us with a review copy!
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