This is your captain speaking

Deepen Mehta has logged over 745 flying hours, all without ever leaving the ground. When we meet him, he is preparing for his flight from Vancouver to Brisbane via Fiji. No, Mehta hasn’t discovered teleportation; he fulfils all his aviation fantasies with Virtual Air Traffic Simulation network, a flight-simulation network that allows users to fly online as a pilot, or direct traffic as an air traffic controller (ATC). As administrator to the not-for-profit website, Mehta boasts of 600 users in India who balance being aviation enthusiasts with regular day jobs, some of whom have more than 2,000 virtual flying hours, enough to get them a job at any leading airline, except that it will have to be a virtual one.

A chapter of the international VATSIM network, the US branch has over 1,97,512 registered members that shuttle between and cover the global air space.

Working as ground staff for a national airline, Mehta always had a passion for the aviation industry but his dreams never took off. “Not everyone can afford to pay for a pilots training. Also, the industry is not looking good in terms of jobs at the moment. But I’ve been simulating flights for the last 10 years and today I can easily fly any aircraft as a pilot would in real life,” says Andheri-based Mehta.

The simulator software lets you start as a pilot, you build your ratings depending on the number of hours you log. You can also jump levels by taking theory and practical tests on the site to advance to different aircraft and air traffic control designations. Members can fly solo with the offline version of the software or sign in to the VATSIM network and acquire assistance from other members who are logged on as air traffic controllers and manage a designated air space.

Accumulating frequent flying hours in real-life travel will not help you here. Members are required to communicate with the air traffic control centre using actual radio phraseology and follow published International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) navigation procedures as would be used in the given scenario. “We try to keep the experience as real as possible.

We have enthusiasts who have designed simulators that look identical to the Cessna and the Boeing 737. The design is so intricate that you will see the dials and metres as in the actual aircraft. It uses satellite mapping to make sure the view from the aircraft shows you landscape identical to the airport,” explains Mehta.

When a member logs on to the VATSIM servers, he must select his aircraft, time of day, location and weather conditions. With software like Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane, they must then request for clearance from air traffic control, file their flight plan into the Flight Mapping System and then proceed. Members can also sign up as air traffic control where they monitor flights in a region. They can view the radar screen, which displays the aircraft type, altitude and speed of the airplane and oversee take-offs and departures by directing
the pilots.


Flight level is a standard nominal altitude of an aircraft, in hundreds of feet. This altitude is calculated from the International standard pressure datum of 1013.25 hPa (29.92 inHg), the average sea-level pressure, and therefore is not necessarily the same as the aircraft’s true altitude indicated Airspeed is the airspeed that is read directly from the Airspeed Indicator. It is the speed of the aircraft relative to the speed in the air (not nessarily the same as the speed of the aircraft in relation to the ground) Q code is a standardised collection of three-letter message encodings that convey bearings and pressures at a station
Taxing is when an aircraft moves on the ground with its own power.

Pushback is an airport procedure during which an aircraft is pushed backwards away from an airport gate by external power 

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