This week's Premature Evaluation sees Fraser putting on his nicest suit and running an Airport in tycoon and management game Airport CEO [official site]. Please don't arrange any flights until he's finished. RPS does not endorse his airport.
I spend an inordinate amount of time in airports, and I loathe them with every fibre of my being. The huge crowds of people willing to sacrifice their humanity if it means getting on their flight in time; the constant, unrelenting announcements and security warnings; the forty different meaningless passenger classes; the endless, illogical queues -- I’m getting a stress headache just thinking about it.
So of course I’ve decided to make my own airport in Airport CEO. I mean, how could anything I run be worse than one of these travel prisons? Frankly, I expect to do such a great job that I’m wondering if this Premature Evaluation is even going to be interesting to read. Sorry.
I live 10 minutes away from Glasgow Airport. It’s an awful place, though admittedly it wouldn’t even feature in the top 20 worst airports I’ve found myself trapped in. Regardless, I think I could improve on it, which is why I establish my first airport literally on top of my home. Fraser International Airport, run by its CEO Don Bossmann, is going to change the way people think about air travel.
As I look over the empty plot of land I’ve been given, I start to wonder if I’ve maybe been a little overconfident. Before I can even accept my first plane, I have a million things to do, and it’s all a bit baffling. There’s infrastructure to set up, buildings to construct, staff to hire, board seats to fill (after all, what’s a CEO without their CTO, CFO and FFS?) and I’m still trying to figure out what the hell a taxiway foundation is.
Airport CEO dips its toes into pretty much every aspect of running an airport, so there’s a lot to parse. Construction, maintenance, retail, passenger comfort, flight schedules - it’s a huge list of tasks. Luckily, you can start small, establishing a tiny local airfield before you start thinking about a sprawling international monstrosity.
Before I can do anything, however, I have to sign a contract with a construction company. I hire the first one on the list because I’m far too busy to do research. This gives me 55 workers, which seems like a small amount for my ambitious vision, but we’ll make do. Since I know what a runway is, I put them to work building that. And any concerns I had about my 55 new employees quickly vanish as they work tirelessly throughout the day, and the following night.
By 4am on my second day, my workers have constructed a complete runway and four stands where planes can chill out. This is some impressive work, and I can’t help but feel like my leadership has had something to do with it. After a brief browse of the tutorial checklist, I even start to grasp the fundamentals. I now know what a taxiway is! It’s the bit between the stand and the runway, where the planes have to travel before parking or taking off. This is proving to be a real education.
With runway complete and the pathways between all the important bits linked up, I’m now ready to start inviting planes to enjoy my fine airport. Sure, it’s currently just a grass field with some dotted lines and markers, but it’s got a lot of heart. With the flick of a switch, I open the doors to general aviation (GA) flights. Essentially, that means I’ve made a parking garage for small private planes. Watching these wee planes landing and taking off fills me with pride, but I’ve started to become concerned about my workers. With nothing more to work on, for the time being, they’re just lingering around the active runway. It’s incredible that none of them have been injured, that I know of, and I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen in normal airports. Mind you, normal airports are terrible, so maybe this is OK?
At this point, the management side of things hasn’t really kicked in, since these planes are simply landing, parking for the night, and then leaving, all on their own schedule. So it’s a little boring. I’m also not making much money, which I guess is the most important thing, although I prefer to think of myself as a socially conscious airport CEO rather than a hardcore capitalist. Then I notice that a lot of these little GA planes are running a bit low on fuel, and that’s something I can absolutely help with.
Technology unlocked, another contract signed and a truck bought, my refuelling service is operational. It might look like my truck is relieving itself on the plane, but it’s actually relieving itself into the plane. With fuel. So it’s fine. I sit back and watch as this diligent vehicle makes its rounds, ceaselessly directing its yellow stream into the hungry planes. It’s all paying off, too, as I’m finally starting to make money. At least until the sun goes down.
Unfortunately, GA flights are daytime-only, and my airport essentially shuts down every night. I’m still technically making money because I’m charging for planes to park here, but that’s not all that comforting when my money tracker goes red whenever it gets dark. Thankfully, these moments are short lived, since Airport CEO conveniently lets you fast forward through the night if no planes are moving. I also start to add new stands so that I’m making more cash during the day.
I think, however, that it’s time to turn this glorified field into a proper airport. For that, I need a terminal, gates, staff and probably some potted plants so that my terminal doesn’t look like what it really is: a massive warehouse. But there’s a problem; a really annoying problem that I refuse to take responsibility for, even though it’s probably my fault. My layout is all wrong.
See, a terminal needs to be both adjacent to a road - or at least a pavement, so passengers can walk from the bus stop and drop off points to the terminal - and the stands. Unfortunately, I appear to have constructed everything the wrong way around. Rather than demolish the lot, I go for the easier solution: I extend the road all the way around the runway, and then start building the terminal above the rest of my airport. It looks ugly, but aside from me, who is even going to be looking at it from this perspective? They’d have to be in a… Oh, I see the problem now.
A terminal, even one just for domestic flights like this one, comes with a lot of requirements. It needs secure areas, gates, boarding desks, check-in desks, security stations - all costing me more money. I need to hire some staff, too. Luckily, I have a mountain of CVs and applications on my desk, containing personal details, professional experience and a bunch of stats that reveal how good the candidate is under pressure, among other things. Presenting it as a proper application is a nice touch, and Airport CEO is full of them. My inbox is bursting with emails from contractors, a message from the mayor, even spam. It’s a welcome bit of flavour in a game that, like the airports it simulates, can be a bit sterile.
After the third application, I realise that as nice as these details are, I don’t really care, and I start just hiring the cheapest candidates. I end up with a mixed bag, with some eager beavers, but also more than a few stressful misanthropes. Oh well! At least I have enough staff to man the airport. For the sake of morale, I also construct a staff room. There are some ugly couches, more plants and an office desk complete with a PC. I have no idea what my staff are doing with their PC, but they love it. It’s probably for plane porn, but I don’t want to make assumptions.
With my terminal up and running, Fraser International is starting to feel like a real airport, though I’m starting to worry that it’s too big. People are just going straight from the check-in desk to their gate, ignoring the three comfy terminal seats and the… well, that’s it, really. I suppose I could put some shops in there too, but I suspect that I’d just lose money. Each of these domestic flights only seats a small number of passengers; not enough to support even a single newsagent.
I’ll be honest: I’m also a bit cheap. I want the travellers that I’ve taken under my wing to be happy and content, but at the same time, I’m struggling to turn the profit that will be required to make this Glasgow’s greatest airport. I’m making money, sure, but just in dribs and drabs. And that’s quickly being eaten up by my growing expenses. This is all my way of explaining why I’ve yet to put toilets in the terminal, despite the many desperate people who have started to do their business on the seats in the departure area. Dirty bastards.
Most of my attention is being swallowed up by managing the new flights coming through the airport. Unlike GA flights, commercial flights have to be scheduled, and before that, contracts with airlines have to be signed. The contracts contain details like how many flights will be coming through, how quickly the flights need to be completed and how much cash I’ll make at the end. With that done, it’s up to me to decide when the planes get in, and what stand they go to.
Once I fill up my flight schedule for the week, I realise that I’m superfluous. I’ve added a new runway to handle the additional traffic, and both runways are now made of asphalt instead of grass, so there aren’t even any repairs needed. I just watch as flight after flight swallows up its passengers and takes them to exotic lands like Liverpool and Northampton. I wish I could join them. The adventurous cuisine, pristine beaches, warm weather - England truly does sound like paradise.
It’s only when the contracts are completed that I get to spring back into action, but really I’m just doing a spot of admin before letting my diligent employees do all the heavy lifting. Things are ticking along nicely, but it looks like competently running an airport is a little dull. Time to spice things up! Screw domestic flights. The UK is rubbish, I want to help people escape. It’s time for Fraser International Airport to live up to its name. Also, I’m a bit worried about the false advertising.
This is what it’s all about. This is what I’ve been building up to. After hours of just letting my airport run on automatic, I’m excited by the prospect of feeling like a boss again. Genuinely eager, I start looking for the extra bits and bobs I’ll need to create my dream airport and see those dreams shatter against the hard wall of reality. I can’t afford all of this. Any of this, really. A single medium stand costs $150,000. And I need to unlock new fuel tech, hire more vehicles, add more staff to the roster - I start to consider a Kickstarter.
The airport’s layout has also, once again, become a thorn in my side. There’s no room for a new stand, forcing me to get a loan so I can build one to the north of the terminal, expand the terminal itself with new gates, and then sort out all the pathways and taxiways. Hundreds and thousands of dollars have been spent on fixing this error, but it’s now finished, awaiting the first of hopefully many international flights.
I’m nervously waiting for that flight when the first disaster strikes. A GA flight has landed on the new runway, and has nowhere to go. I forgot to specify commercial only, and now this plane can’t get to the southern stands. It just sits there for a moment, and then, to my horror, it drives off the tarmac and into the airport. I can only imagine how many people are now dead, but at least it got to where it needed to be. Unfortunately, it’s stuck there now.
There’s a jam on the taxiway. A single plane is holding everyone else up, and it’s not moving. That’s because the pilots seem to be absolutely certain that they’ve reached their destination, Brazil. They’ve been sitting there for 10 hours now. There is absolutely nothing I can do. To make matters worse, the large international flight I’ve been waiting for has arrived. At the wrong part of the airport. It is now stuck behind these delusional pilots, and there’s no way for it to move to the correct stand. Unlike the other plane, it won’t just smash through the terminal. Probably for the best.
It turns out that planes just land on whatever runway they fancy, so every runway needs to be connected to every stand, no matter how far away they are. Unfortunately, I’ve got two roads, some buildings and one obstinate plane in the way. Even after figuring out a solution, creating a path all the way around and to the medium stand, that plane still won’t move. The airport is hemorrhaging money, contracts are being breached and passengers are still inexplicably pouring into the terminal. Their new home.
Fraser International Airport started as a bold dream, but it’s become a nightmare. I’m getting out of the airport racket, I think. I’m not the man for the job. But before a bug and my own poor planning ruined everything, I was quite content. I don’t want to say I was enjoying my time as an airport CEO, because this is a very detail-orientated, straight-faced management sim, and it’s a bit too dry for me. It feels authentic, though, to the point where I even learned a thing or two. And maybe my own mistakes will make me more understanding when I find myself in a real airport again. Probably not, but it’s a nice thought.
Airport CEO is out now on Steam for £11.99/$15.99/€15.99.