Preview of North America's biggest flight simulation conference
Following the cancellation of last year's show due to COVID, North America's premier flight simulation conference, FlightSimExpo, is back. Taking place on September 24-26 at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego in California, it will be a hybrid event with attendees participating in-person or online. We sat down with event organisers Evan Reiter and Phil Coyle to find out more.
PC Pilot: Hi Evan and Phil, thank you for speaking to us about FlightSimExpo 2021. For the benefit of people new to flight simulation, can you start by giving us a background on the event?
FlightSimExpo is a dedicated conference for enthusiast flight simulation, one of very few in the world and possibly the only one happening this year. Founded in 2018, the event aims to bring together real-world pilots (who use home simulators for training), flight simmers (who are passionate about aviation and love using a home sim for fun), and the developers from our industry who produce the simulators, hardware products, and add-ons we all enjoy.
Beyond anything else, we're hoping to showcase our hobby to the world and encourage those new to flight simulation to learn more about what it can offer, both for real-world training or fun!
We held events in Las Vegas (2018) and Orlando (2019) before the pandemic forced a pause in 2020. We're excited to be returning to an in-person format in San Diego on September 24-26, 2021. For the first time, we are also inviting the community to join us remotely through an "online-only" registration that provides access to 30+ live and recorded seminars presented by pilots, dispatchers, flight instructors, flight simulation developers, and more.
You can find more information about this year's show, look at the complete schedule, and register at www.flightsimexpo.com.
PC Pilot: What were the main challenges in organising a conference of this scale with the uncertainty of the pandemic, such as travel restrictions and lessons learned from last year when you had to cancel the 2020 event?
You said it – uncertainty. Even two months out, we still don't know for sure that new restrictions won't be put in place and how the latest news will shape attendees' willingness to attend an in-person event. In these uncertain times, we've focused on offering as much flexibility as possible. It's free to change or cancel your plans to attend the show and, fortunately, almost all airlines are now offering refundable or changeable travel options.
Given that we still have entry restrictions into the United States from certain regions, we also have several attendees and developers who want to participate in the show this year but simply are not able to.
PC Pilot: Can you tell us COVID measures you have to put in place, for example, masks, social distancing and precautions for exhibitor hardware for visitors to try out, such as VR headsets?
This continues to be an evolving area of science and government regulation. We will continue to follow the recommendations and guidance provided by the government as well as our venue. At present, we are asking (but not requiring) all attendees to obtain a full course of vaccination, as we feel this offers the best protection from infection. For those who wish to, mask-wearing will be welcomed as will social distancing. We are fortunate to have a lot of space this year and plan to make good use of it to ensure those who want to stay a little further apart than usual can do so.
We're also partnering with iCloth to provide recyclable, electronics-safe cleaning products on-site at the show. Their wipes use a 70% isopropyl alcohol formula and are safe to use on screens and other electronic surfaces. We'll have plenty of wipes along with recycling stations located throughout the show site to make it easy for items like VR headsets and flight controls to be sanitised regularly. We're also working with our venue and vendors to provide hand sanitiser stations and enhanced cleaning measures throughout the event space.
PC Pilot: How do you decide where the conference is held and why you chose San Diego for this year's show?
Every year, we run a survey of our attendees—and the broader community—asking for input on where the next event should be held. San Diego was selected as a top choice from the community in that process.
The city offers an amazing backdrop for this year's show. Between world-class beaches, historic areas, great shopping, the zoo, and aviation-themed attractions like the San Diego Air and Space Museum and USS Midway Museum, there's something for everyone.
PC Pilot: What can you tell us about the hotel and the venue and are there any special discounts or offers for visitors, for example, flights, hotels etc?
We always work hard to ensure that attending the event is as easy and affordable as possible. We've secured a hotel rate of $150 per night, inclusive of taxes and fees, exclusively for FlightSimExpo attendees (you can book at www.flightsimexpo.com/hotel). We also have discounts available for air travel on Delta, Southwest, and WestJet. If you need to rent a car, the Enterprise group is offering up to 30% off for FlightSimExpo attendees.
We also work with local attractions that have a connection to aviation. This year, FlightSimExpo attendees can "show their badge and save" at the San Diego Air and Space Museum as well as the Fleet Science Center.
More information on travel, discounted hotel rates, and show savings can be found at www.flightsimexpo.com/travel.
PC Pilot: Moving on to the event itself, can you give us more detail on how the hybrid event works?
We recognise that it won't be possible for everyone to participate in person this year. As a result, we're offering an "online-only" registration that provides show access to anyone, anywhere. The $15 registration includes access to 30+ live and recorded seminars, including some massive announcements from developers across the community. You'll also get access to Whova, our event networking app, along with the chance to chat with attendees and exhibitors, access show specials, participate in product giveaways, and more.
You can register for the "online-only" event the same way as the in-person event by visiting www.flightsimexpo.com. If your readers use the code 'PCPilot', they'll save 25% making that "online-only" registration just $12!
PC Pilot: The latest press release mentioned the event will host several seminars and panel discussions. Can you give us the main highlights of the topics covered?
The full schedule is available at www.flightsimexpo.com/schedule.html. We're excited to be featuring a range of big-name announcements, how-to seminars, and educational presentations from experienced simmers.
Big-name announcements are expected from Thrustmaster, Turtle Beach, X-Crafts, Flight Factor, and more—these appear on the schedule as "Developer Seminars". In addition, following a recent FSA Webinar where they previewed screenshots and videos of the next-generation simulator, the team from X-Plane will be showcasing even more of what's coming next during a one-hour live presentation on Saturday, September 25 at 2 pm PT. The team behind Prepar3D will also be hosting a live Q&A with attendees at 3:15 pm PT, also on Saturday.
In addition to news and announcements, how-to seminars will cover getting started in simulation (Calum Martin from FSElite), the online world (pilot Sebastian Knoop-Troullier), helicopters (Sérgio Costa), and PC building (Ian Hoffer).
Finally, we have invited experienced simmers to share with the community. Sarah, who is visually impaired, will explain how it's possible to fly a simulator without being able to see. Ed Valdez, a retired airline pilot, will talk more about how simulators can be used for training and for fun. Sebastian from MobiFlight will speak about open source home cockpit hardware building. We even have representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Air Force talking about how simulation is used in real-world accident investigation and military flight training.
Access to all these presentations is available for attendees participating in person as well as those who register for the online-only event.
PC Pilot: The X-Plane landing competition was a major hit at the Orlando event. Will it make a repeat appearance?
Yes! Here's Austin talking about it but it sounds like they have something fun and challenging planned. Just like last year, everyone who attends the show will have the chance to enter the contest by completing a landing in virtual reality at the X-Plane booth. Then ten finalists will be selected to compete on stage in the finals on Sunday.
PC Pilot: Compared with previous events, how much of an impact has COVID had on attendance and what is the ratio between virtual vs in-person registrations you received so far?
We expect this year's in-person event will be a little smaller than past years, particularly with the knowledge that it will be difficult or impossible to attend the show if you're located overseas. Presently, about 70% of our registrations are for the in-person show. We expect the "online-only" registrations will start to take off, pardon the pun, a little closer to the event.
Overall, we are tracking closely to 2019 attendee numbers, meaning we expect to see about 1,000 in-person attendees participate this year.
PC Pilot: Can you give an overview of which developers and exhibitors will have stands at the show, and can you share with us details on what products will be on display for visitors to try out? Are you expecting any big announcements during the event?
There are more than 25 confirmed exhibitors and sponsors, including a wide variety of hardware developers. If you've ever wanted to try Virtual Reality, this year's show will be a great chance to do that. We're expecting to see new hardware from Honeycomb Aeronautical on display, and Turtle Beach will be there with the soon-to-be-released VelocityOne Flight System. Thrustmaster has secured the largest booth in FlightSimExpo history to reveal a new addition to their civil aviation line-up. You'll also meet several smaller companies that are using the latest in technology, like 3D printing, to come up with some amazing add-ons for simulators.
PC Pilot: What is Flight Sim association, and can you explain how it ties in with FlightSimExpo? For example, are there any benefits for its members during the event?
Flight Simulation Association (FSA) is a free-to-join organisation designed to help support the growth of our hobby. Available at www.flightsimassociation.com, the website offers free webinars, guides, and discounts for all members, specifically designed to help those new to flight simulation discover our hobby. Those who wish to support the site can also become "FSA Captains" for $3 per month, unlocking preferred pricing across a wide range of add-ons and other perks.
Long-term, we hope to build a community-driven association that could have local 'chapters' for in-person meetings to keep the community connected between the large flight simulation shows.
PC Pilot: Left-field question, what are your thoughts on the new Microsoft Flight Simulator, and how do you see it affecting the community?
The new Microsoft Flight Simulator has done amazing things for the community. The use of modern technology coupled with the renewed interest in the hobby spells great times ahead for us simmers. We hope they continue to progress the simulator and that third-party developer can have the access needed to create amazing add-ons for the platform.
PC Pilot: Following on from that, are there any updates on whether Asobo Studio or Microsoft will attend FlightSimExpo 2021?
At this point, we do not expect Microsoft or Asobo Studios to be able to attend the in-person component of the event. However, Microsoft Flight Simulator will be represented on both desktop and PC through other exhibitors, including Turtle Beach and Honeycomb Aeronautical. We hope that, as global travel becomes easier in the coming months, the platform will be directly represented at our future events.
PC Pilot: Are there any activities that visitors can do outside FlightSimExpo and are there any special discounts or offers available for visitors?
We always reach out to local organisations with a connection to aviation. In addition to San Diego attractions like Balboa Park, Little Italy, Gaslamp Quarter, and more, FlightSimExpo attendees can "show their badge and save" at the San Diego Air and Space Museum and Fleet Science Center. The USS Midway Museum, located on a former naval aircraft carrier, is offering a 30% discount for all veterans.
PC Pilot: If somebody was in two minds about attending the event, what would you say to them to persuade them to come to the event?
Every year, we have folks who show up in person and tell us how they were on the fence about attending but are so amazed by the experience that they can't wait to attend next year. Flight simulation is primarily an "at-home" and online hobby, but behind each simmer is a real person with a story to tell. There's something magical about meeting your fellow hobbyists in person, hearing directly about their experiences, and getting help or advice. The same goes for meeting and interacting with your favourite flight simulation developers: attendees appreciate meeting the real people who make flight simulation add-ons, and developers appreciate meeting their customers in person.
And for those who can't make it in person this year, we'd say – help support us by registering for the Online-Only Event! You'll get access to all the news and updates as they come out. It's just $15, and even less with the PC Pilot discount!
PC Pilot: How can potential visitors keep up with developments on FlightSimExpo in the run-up to the show?
PC Pilot: What are your long-term goals and how do you see FlightSimExpo developing in the future?
We want FlightSimExpo to be the event in North America for enthusiast flight simulation. At our previous shows, we have seen how the same software we use on our home PCs is powering commercial flight training, inspiring young pilots, and helping train the next generation of fighter pilots. We hope to be a place where people discover, enhance, and renew their passion for aviation. And, above all, we want to offer simmers—who normally only get the chance to interact online—the opportunity to come together in person.
PC Pilot: Finally, what do you personally look forward to the most for FlightSimExpo 2021?
We're excited about the many product announcements that are coming out this year. From new software to trying the latest in simulation hardware, there will be lots of exciting news coming out during the show. We've been given a few hints and can't wait to see how the community reacts to what's coming!
PC Pilot: Evan and Phil, thanks for taking the time to speak to us about FlightSimExpo 2021. For more information on FlightSimExpo, visit www.flightsimexpo.com. You can also follow FlightSimExpo on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates. Please note that all images are from FlightSimExpo 2019 in Orlando and were kindly supplied by Evan and Phil.