Skip to main content

The Flare Path: Exit Rows And Brexit Rows

Simulation and wargame blather

Flare Path Air Services isn't like other airlines. Both of the aircraft in our fleet remember where they were when JFK was shot demobbed. Daisy, our DC-3, is as happy hauling live poultry and frozen prawns as lairy tourists and prayerful pilgrims. The WC aboard Old Red, our Piper Cub, consists of a funnel and a beer bottle. And currently we're the only airline in the world brave/visionary enough to have built a fireworks factory on its home airfield.

Air Hauler 2, the follow-up to one of my favourite Microsoft Flight Simulator add-ons, is doing the Early Access thing at the moment. £25 (£20 if you're an AH owner) buys you a potent sim transformer with a few peripheral features still to be implemented and precious little in the way of documentation, but enough stability and new inducements for entrepreneurship to make the notion of flying fee-less trips in the ten-year-old FSX seem utterly absurd.

Compatible with all versions of FSX and Prepar3D, AH2, like its predecessor, lets you run an air freight business from any airfield in the world using default or third-party aircraft and, if you like, hired pilots (With AI aircrew your company can utilize assets and earn cash even when your PC is switched off). At a stroke it turns something magnificent but somewhat short of structure and ludological handholds into a sim with the money-lubricated momentum of an SCS truck simulator.

The sequel's most significant and requested innovation is passenger operations. Find freight contracting too unglamorous, unprofitable or unpredictable? There's now the option to set up regular 'PAX' services or tramp around a country or region relying on spontaneous taxi custom to pay bills.

Any aircraft can be converted from a cargo to a passenger carrier with a few clicks. While you don't get to choose seat textiles or dictate how aggressively your cabin crew hawk charity scratchcards or ham-and-cheese toasties, you can make decisions about seating classification and ticket pricing. Making a profit on 'ad-hoc' one-off flights seems to involve a fair bit of fiddly price slider adjustment at the moment. For regular services ticket sales data is only available after departure and, somewhat surprisingly, a flight needs to be set-up at least a day (the add-on uses a non-acceleratable real-time clock) before its departure time to give punters sufficient opportunity to purchase tickets.

Just as clumsy flying can damage fragile cargoes and, consequently, your company's reputation, violent turns and heavy landings invariably lead to disgruntled passengers and dented prestige. Severely shaken or delayed customers may even demand refunds. I'd like to have seen/heard passenger satisfaction represented in a more imaginative way than an on-screen cumulative percentage figure, but touches like real-time boarding, and audible safety spiels help make 'self-loading freight' jaunts feel different. With luck V1 Software will introduce individual passenger icons, OMSI-style grumbling and occasional in-flight medical emergencies and air-rage incidents at some point in the future.

There's nothing to stop an AH2 player starting a new game on the lowest difficulty setting, immediately selling the valuable 737 that's provided (at the highest difficulty levels you start with a Cessna 172), and using the resulting windfall to buy a small fleet more in-tune with personal preferences. Whatever types you choose to buy or lease, there's no commercial aviation without qualification. Prior to your first revenue-earning flight you must pass a short and fairly gentle 'type rating' test that involves heeding some heading/altitude instructions and executing a smooth landing in the machine in question. AI pilots operate under the same constraints. Hire a new pilot that isn't already qualified to fly your Fokker Friendship, C-130 Hercules, or whatever and you'll need to invest time (usually around a week) and money training them.

Flight crew are fleshed-out further by a new experience-related skills system. The more your employees fly the more opportunities there'll be to spend generated skill points upgrading money and time-saving talents like 'Gate God', 'Timelord', and 'Bungee Warrior'.

As in the original Air Hauler, earnings from aerial endeavours can be supplemented/squandered through reality-based share dealing. Constantly checking current NYSE/FTSE/DAX30 figures, the add-on lets you build up virtual share portfolios and, new in this instalment, wheel and deal in the game's own economic jungle too.

Sketchy documentation means my first foray outside aviation – the (sadly invisible in FSX) fireworks factory mentioned in the intro - is currently standing idle due to a lack of 'chemicals', but I'm confident one day soon Daisy will be carrying regular shipments of Flare Path rockets, Roman candles and Catherine wheels to destinations in the Southern US. I think I'm right in saying you don't need to manufacture goods directly to make a killing from the game's complex commodity web. Rather than earn a crust as a logistical lackey, you're free to Elite your way to success by buying goods in places where they're cheap and selling them in places where they're pricey.

Not implemented yet are the randomly-generated missions (taxi me here... photograph this... bring me this commodity) that will offer yet more ways to make money. Multiplayer Virtual Airline support should also have arrived by the time this already extremely playable and dangerously distracting work-in-progress leaves Early Access at the end of the year.

*  *  *  *  *

Tea-break chat in the Flare Path office used to be dominated by plane and tank trivia. Now you're as likely to overhear talk of agricultural subsidies and migration figures as mentions of Manchesters and Merkavas. With Britain's EU referendum approaching like a Leichter Ladungsträger Goliath I thought it would be interesting to hear what a Brexit/Bremain decision on 23 June would mean for key players in the PC wargame and sim sectors. This week Marco Minoli offers a Slitherine perspective.

"This is potentially a difficult situation for us, as we truly are an international company with offices in England, Italy, France, USA and Rumania. A further challenge for us is that of our UK staff, two have transferred from overseas to live and work in the UK. One of the benefits of our international reach is that this has allowed us to put together one of the strongest and most professional teams in the industry. Territorial borders have never been an issue for us, nor do we expect they will be in either outcome of the referendum. One of our staff transferred here from inside the EU and the other from the USA. Both have UK National Insurance numbers and will remain as employees irrespective of the outcome of the referendum."

"From a commercial perspective here again we have no concerns in respect of the outcome. Currently we structure our affairs so that the bulk of our revenue is through our New York bank. In the event that for whatever reason the value of the £ drops we will benefit in two ways. Firstly with a stronger Dollar and secondly in that the UK cost of our products will drop leading to increased sales."

"A major beneficiary of all of this is likely to be our developer partners, especially those in the UK or EU countries. Our policy is to support many of them financially during development with interest free loans, which we recoup via royalties when their games go on sale. So the potential loss of bank funding is irrelevant to them. We structure the repayments so that no more than 50% of any royalty payment is ever taken. Sure this extends the loan, but it gives them a guaranteed revenue stream which enables upgrades, expansions and new products to roll out."

"So, whatever the outcome both we and just about every entrepreneurial business in the UK that is susceptible to possible change will take whatever steps are necessary to deal with the immediate situation. I recall back in 1988, just after I formed my first company that interest rates spiked from 3% to 8% up to 15% in the space of just over a year. The economists were in melt down and do you know what, we in business adapted and just got on with it."

"Again in 2007–08, we had the “Big Bang” also known as the global financial crisis, it was considered by many economists as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, so I'm certain that whatever the Referendum brings, we will deal with it.

The hype in both the Bremain and Brexit camps is exaggerated, biased and in certain cases false, in the last analysis this is Politics doing what it always does. So the question that remains unclear is WHAT IS BEST FOR THE UK?"

*  *  *  *  *

This way to the foxer

Read this next