I am sure I did a mini review of this some time back but a lot has happened this programme and tons of new airports have been added so Terry thought it was time we did — or at least ‘I’ did a more in depth review of this fascinating product.
Firstly the version used for this review is V2.09A which can be downloaded for free from Aerosoft (www.aerosoft.com). Interestingly as I started to write this review the developer of the programme, a very well know German called Oliver Pabst, wrote a piece about the development of V3.0 on the Aerosoft forums, but more on this in the review.
What exactly is Airport Enhancement Services (AES)? It is a set of enhancements for both FS9 and FSX airports whereby at selected airports you can have the following: animated gates that link up perfectly with the doors of your aircraft, Follow me car (van) guiding you to your parking position, Sound effects while rolling over the centreline lights on the runway, Simulation of water or snow on the runway, High detailed (3D) Marshaller at all parking positions that do not have docking assistance systems, Realistic docking systems and Marshallers, Pushback with sound, animated objects and automatic perfect alignment, when your aircraft is parked, buses will arrive to transport the passengers, Service vehicles will appear e.g. fuel, cleaning and catering and even de-icing! This list really does not do justice to what you really get as there is an atmospheric element that cannot be calculated as well.
The actual programme (AES) is free to download but as indicated it is only available for selected airports and in order for it to work, you need to purchase credits, which you then use to activate AES for these airports. In V2.9 there are 376 airports that AES is available for, of which 94 are free, 288 are for FS9 and 119 are for FSX. At the time of writing, the following airports are covered:
Canada x 1, Tunisia x 2, Belgium x 1, Germany x 34, Finland x 3, United Kingdom x 9 (including Belfast Aldergrove), Holland x 3, Ireland x 3 (Eiresim’s Dublin, Cork & Shannon), Denmark x 1, Luxembourg x 1, Norway x 3, Poland x 1, Sweden x 1, Canary Islands x 8, Morocco x 2, United States x 26, Cyprus x 1, Slovenia & Croatia x 10, Spain x 17, France x 12, Greece x 9, Hungary x 1, Italy x 12, Israel x 1, Malta x 1, Austria x 6, Portugal x 5, Switzerland x 3, Turkey x 1, Gibraltar x 1, Guatemala x 1, Honduras x 1, Jamaica x 2, Mexico x 3, Costa Rica x 1, Cayman Islands x 1, Bahamas x 1, Tahiti x 1, Dubai x 1, Oman x 1, Pakistan x 1, Hawaii x 3, Japan x 47, South Korea x 1, Brazil x 5, Chile x 1, Uruguay x 1, Puerto Rico x 1, Aruba x 3, Trinidad & Tobago x 1, Russia x 4, Hong Kong, Maldives x 1, Thailand x 2, Singapore x 1, Australia x 1, Indonesia x 2, this is some amount of airports!!
You have to remember that AES only works with specifically designed airports (third party add-ons) and not default airports (with one exception, Nuremberg in Germany) an example are the three Irish airports by Eiresim, which you must own before you can install AES for use on them. Others like London Heathrow had three versions available, UK2000 Xtreme V1 and V2 and also the Simwings 2008 version. It is obvious that most Aerosoft scenery products are covered by AES. The list is growing and growing and Oliver and Aerosoft work very closely with scenery designers to ensure that new scenery releases are compatible with AES and so enhancing the experience of the scenery.
AES is aimed mainly at commercial passenger aircraft, however some cargo aircraft and some smaller aircraft like ATR’s are also covered. The credit system works by you purchasing credits in blocks of ten which cost â‚¬14.95 this includes German VAT at 19% or â‚¬12.56 without VAT. There are some discounts available by buying a number of credit packs you will get additional credit, so getting anywhere between 10% and 40% additional credits for free depending on how many you buy. Each airport costs a certain amount of credits — for example the three Irish Eiresim airports,Â Dublin costs 2 credits (approx. â‚¬3.00), and Cork and Shannon cost 1 credit each (approx. â‚¬1.49 each). Bigger airports like London Heathrow by UK2000 cost 5 credits (approx. â‚¬7.47) the cheapest being 0 credits and the most expensive being 5 credits. So hopefully having explained what AES is, what it covers, and how much it costs, we can look at the programme itself.
Installation is straight forward as you would expect from Aerosoft and once installed you have a 23 page manual and an AES icon called AES Help. Within the Aerosoft subfolder in FS9, there’s an AES folder where the manual is located and another exe file called AESConfig. AESHelp, which has a shortcut placed on your desktop is used to install credits, allocate those credits to airports you have installed, set aircraft parameters and configuration. You can only run the installation of credits and allocation of same whilst FS is not running. The setting of your aircraft parameters can only be run when FS is running. So having installed the software and purchased your first bundle of ten credits either directly from Aerosoft or from SimMarket (both offer the same prices) you now need to install the credits via the “Add New Credits” option in AESHelp.
The credits are entered via a serial number which you will receive from the supplier and once the serial number is entered you will see these appear at the bottom part of the screen as: Total: 10; Used 0; Free:10. Once you purchase a number of packs, additional free credits as per the bonus offer will automatically be entered. So now with credits installed you can decide which third party sceneries you have installed and which are AES compatible you can allocate to work.
Clicking on “Activation of Airports” can take a minute or two to load as the programme looks at your scenery config file to see exactly what you have installed. Once open, you are offered a whole series of airport sceneries listed in three different colours: Red, Green and Blue. Whilst this option shows all AES compatible sceneries there is an option to select “List only installed Add-ons” and checking this will list all the AES compatible sceneries that you have installed. The colouring system is important,
- Red: are sceneries that are AES compatible but you don’t have installed on your system.
- Blue: are AES compatible sceneries that you do have installed on your system.
- Green: Once you have allocated credits to airports these then turn green to let you know that they are now fully working in your FS.
At the bottom of this screen there is a box titled “Credits, which can be used to assign Full-Mode” and with your purchase of ten credits this should now show ten as available. Beside each airport name, which uses the ICAO four letter codes i.e. EIDW for Dublin, it will then list who the scenery publisher is and how many credits it will need to activate it in Full-Mode. For example, the Eiresim Dublin scenery will be listed as: FS9 EIDW Eiresim Dublin Intl — Ireland 2 Full. Some airports will be listed as Demo, which means that they will operate in demo mode for a short period of time but not all airports have this feature. So carefully selecting which airports you are going to choose, I say carefully as once allocated you cannot undo the credits if you decide you don’t want them there! You don’t have to select all at once as any credits not used will stay unallocated until you decide you want to use them. Having carefully selected your airports, you are asked to verify you want to select the airport(s) and once verified the credits you had will reduce and the airports you have selected will now turn green in your airport list.
So you have installed the programme, purchased and installed your credits to activate AES in your selected sceneries you must be ready to go — well not quite! AES works with most commercial aircraft but you need to configure each of your aircraft within FS that you want to use with AES — remember this won’t work with your Cessna 172 or Piper Cub! To configure your aircraft to work with AES you must have FS running, so with this done, you launch the AESConfig.exe programme and once the AESConfig window opens you are given two options — Set Aircraft parameters and Configuration. I recommend selecting an airport you have assigned your credits to and then an aircraft you normally fly and once sitting at this airport you can work on configuring AES to work with your particular aircraft. This is where the manual comes in handy but in essence you are telling AES where, how high, how many doors and what type of doors you have on your aircraft — this is really important for the airbridges and airstairs to dock correctly with your aircraft and also how it ensures the towbar locks to the nosewheel for pushback.
Now there is a whole section in the manual on this and how you do it but there is an easier way than spending hours getting this done – I had to do it at the very beginning for my Fokker 100 and it took and hour or two to get it right. Some smart people have done it for popular/common aircraft add-ons and uploaded these AES aircraft config files to Avsim.com and Flightsim.com. So for example, if you use the Digital Aviation Fokker 100, the Qualitywings Boeing 757, Captain Sim 757 etc., etc., the chances are that someone has uploaded an AES config file and all you need to do is download it and install it — all very simple and easy. Finally, there is one other element I suggest you look at and at least know how to tweak.
With AESConfig still running, open the configuration tab and you will see nine different parameters you can tweak. Under ‘Timer’ you can change the minimum amount of time and the maximum amount of time it will take to do the following actions: Deboard the aircraft; the Catering to be completed; the Cleaning to be completed; the Fuel Loading to be completed and finally the Boarding to be completed. I did find that the defaults were too long, so play around with these yourself. Under ‘Sounds’ you can change the sound levels of the announcements (you will be told that “Boarding is complete” etc.) and the sounds both inside and outside of the vehicles, Airbridge warning sounds and sounds of passengers deboarding J.
Having finally completed the installation, configuring your aircraft (or finding a suitable config file) and tweaking with the time settings and sounds, we are now ready to actually use AES! I will use an example of a flight from Dublin to Shannon and what happens when using AES — both these scenery add-ons are by Eiresim and are AES compatible. I have set myself at Dublin on Stand 10A – this is one of the nose-in stands at Pier A which does not have an airbridge.
Once FS opens and you are sitting at the gate, you must ensure that you have your parking brake set and your engines turned off before AES will come alive. In this case I am using the Digital Aviation Fokker 100 aircraft for the flight. With these done I hear a voice say “Blocks in position” and outside I see an airstairs and two small baggage conveyors along with my trusty Marshaller who accompanies me wherever I go in AES land. After a few seconds the airstairs and the two baggage conveyors move into position — exactly.Â Sometimes the airstairs will be a standard one and sometimes it will have a roof on it.
Now that we are ready, use the key commands “Ctrl Shift W” which will launch a clear text window in FS with 8 AES options. At the top, it tells you the stand you are currently at, the eight options and how to select them are as follows:
- F1 = Request Deboarding;
- F2 = Request Catering Service Vehicles now;
- F3 = Request Cleaning Service Vehicles now;
- F4 = Request Fuel Truck;
- F5 = Request Boarding now;
- F6 = Prepare position for now for departure;
- F7 = Reset position now — after aircraft change (you use this if you decide to fly another aircraft as AES needs to know this and it will reconfigure the different service vehicles to the new aircraft);
- F8 = Move Aircraft to exact Park position (to be used if you decide to change stand).
In our case we’ll assume that we have not disembarked the passengers from a previous flight, so I have selected F1. A bus appears, pulls up beside our aircraft and the doors open (if we were a Boeing 757 at least two buses turn up and park beside the front and rear airstairs). In the background there is the ambient noise of passengers saying goodbye and shuffling off the plane. After a few minutes I hear a voice call out “Deboarding has been completed…” and the doors on the bus close and it pulls away.
Once I select any of the F1 — F5 keys, a letter beside each of them in the window will change as follows: A = action is active (as you have selected it), D = Done or O = Outstanding. Next we select F2 and the catering truck appears, drives up to door on the far side of the passenger door, four stabilising jacks descend and the main body of the truck rises to line up with the service door. F3 selects the cleaning crew who turn up in small van at the rear and a toilet truck also appears.
F4 selects the fuel truck which duly appears alongside our aircraft (although it does not actually fill your aircraft with fuel). Once all this is done — and it can take several minutes, we now select F5 to request boarding — our bus arrives alongside and the doors open. In the background I can hear the cabin crew welcoming passengers aboard and after a few minutes I get the call “Boarding completed”. So toilets emptied, fuel on board and passengers seated we are ready to go.
Selecting F6 to prepare for departure brings up a selection: F1 = Yes, I need pushback please, prepare now, wait for start request or F2 = No, I don’t need Pushback, only clearance please. In this case I do need to pushback so I select F1 and yet another request (remember it knows I am on Stand A10), F1 = Start pushback to the left and F2 = Start pushback to the right. As I ponder the request the pushback truck appears drives to the front of the aircraft and hooks up the towbar to the nosewheel, while the airstairs pulls away along with the baggage conveyors.
I select F2 for a push to the right — remember the selection is made from the perspective of the pushback truck driver, so a pushback to the right actually swings the tail to the left from inside cockpit. But the absolute beauty of this is the extremely highly accurate way in which the pushback is done — in my case Stand A10 calls for a straight back push to line up with Apron Taxiway 4, which it does with inch perfect precision. So here we are on the taxiway with the pushback truck still engaged and the Marshaller beside us hooked up to the comms in the cockpit. Parking brake selected and the pushback truck disengages and drives away and the Marshaller unhooks himself and walks a safe distance away and gives me the thumbs up.
That’s it more or less for our departure, apart from some nice touches in relation to the nosewheel sounds as it rolls over the centreline taxiway lights and also some nice textures for rain and snow on the runways.
Also, if the outside air temperature (OAT) is at or below 3 degrees Celsius or snowing or known icing conditions, then AES will automatically offer you another choice F1 = Request De-icing and F2 = No De-icing needed. Selecting F1 brings two de-icing trucks to the rear of my Fokker 100 and after extending their arms up and over the aircraft they start to spray the wings and the fuselage before moving towards the rear of the aircraft — even the de-icing agent looks real as it comes out of the nozzles J. So without further ado we are on our way and as such nothing more happens from an AES perspective until we land in Shannon.
Our flight to Shannon has been uneventful and soon we are on approach to runway 24. Upon landing we rollout and exit via taxiway A, which is close to the control tower. As soon as we exit the runway on Alpha, I open the AES window and am offered a stand number, which I can accept or if not I can select F1 to decrease the gate number or F2 to increase the gate number — the gate numbering system exactly matches the scenery. I am also offered the option of F3 to request a Follow-Me Vehicle to the Selected Position.
Once this is selected a Follow Me van or car will appear in front of your aircraft and guide you to the stand you have selected — it won’t move unless you do and it keeps pace with your ground speed staying in front of you at all times. It also indicates with its indicators when it is going to turn so you can anticipate it’s every turn. Once on stand, it will wait until you arrive won’t disappear until you set your parking brakes and shut down the engines. Once brakes are applied and engines shut down you start to hear a beeping noise as the airbridge starts to move out and its height adjusts to that of your forward door as it moves closer and closer until it reaches your door.
Once in position, the rubber surround then angles itself forward to wrap itself around the curvature of the aircrafts fuselage giving a perfect seal and thus ensuring our passengers stay dry. At some airports, the airbridges have flashing lights and watching the wheels on its base turn and move as the airbridge moves towards your aircraft is fascinating. Once docked, you will hear the ground crew banging on your door to tell you the airbridge is in place and you can open your door. With us now on stand we can open the AES window once more and again we are presented with the same options we had when we started our flight in Dublin. This time I requested deboarding and I could hear the cabin crew bid our passengers farewell as they exited the aircraft. Depending on your aircraft type you will get different types of vehicles — for example with the Boeing 757, the baggage conveyors are replaced with palletised freight lifts and you get a rear air stairs as well.
The whole programme adds so much atmosphere to an aircraft, that I seldom fly in to any airport now that does not have AES available. For me it just adds a sense of realism that is unsurpassed. The only negative point I would make is that the AESHelp and AESConfig windows, which operate outside of FS, are narrow and cannot be resized, which I find frustrating.
I suppose you could say that if I had tons of add-on sceneries and wanted to have all of the available ones for AES fully operational it might cost a bit.
As I write this review Oliver Pabst has posted a piece on the Aerosoft forum in relation to the next version of AES, V3.0. He hints at 3D objects and the ability to have your ground fleet painted in differing colours like those belonging to airlines like Aer Lingus! The configuration of the ground vehicles and how they adjust to different aircraft will be expanded upon and thus allowing more aircraft to be configured to work with AES, in particular commuter aircraft. There are also some additional ground equipment for freighters, which will be included.
I have been using AES for a year or two now and it is definitely one of those add-ons that just keeps on growing on you — even when flying online with the ability to push back accurately from your stand is just a great buzz.
This review was first published on PC FLIGHT Â issue Vol 14 No.4 of March 2011, the official magazine of theÂ PC Pilots Ireland. We thank PCPI for the kind permission.