A large number of pilots seem to think that SimAirline.net is on a plan of virtual airline expansion beyond what we've announced for 2006. This is not the case for a number of reasons, which I will discuss here.
History of and Reasons for Expansion
2000-2003: Before SimAirline.net began, there were three "sister virtual airlines": Continental-Northwest Virtual Airlines, Swissair-Sabena Virtual Airlines, and Virgin International Airways. The first two eventually split apart. The airlines had a single management and a single roster. Overall operations were much the same as they are today, but without an overarching brand name. Expansion occurred for several reasons, all market-driven:
-member desires and suggestions
-no VA open based on a particular airline (e.g. ANA)
-no VA open that offered the same degree of freedom (e.g. Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, KLM)
-a highly popular airline that could have another option online (e.g. Alaska, Delta, KLM)
-a new innovation in VA scope (e.g. Concorde)
-a revival of a previously closed VA with the same management (e.g. Midway)
Expansion was entirely on an ad hoc
basis, with management alone determining with what and when to expand. A rough expansion policy was defined in 2003 as the following:
a virtual airline must meet all four of the following conditions in order to be added:
-The airline is of interest and favor to our main management.
-The airline is well-known internationally.
-Schedules, fleet information, etc. are easily accessible.
-The airline does not have a significant history of ordering virtual airlines to close.
2004: By the end of 2003, SimAirline.net was well-established and operated twelve different virtual airlines. Internal and external pressure for more virtual airlines only increased as more were opened, so it was necessary to rationalize growth prospects with a long-term plan, and to limit our growth rate so as not to overextend ourselves. The result was the most important part of the 2004 Operations Plan. The first part of the section added on to the 2003 expansion policy:
Why must all four of these conditions be true?
-Inevitably, one will not put as much effort into a project that they are not interested in.
-There is little point in adding airlines that are not well-known, as they will not result in as much activity.
-A virtual airline can not exist without this essential information.
-We have had our once-premier virtual airline, Virtual US Airways, shut down in the past. There is little point in creating a virtual airline if it has a higher probability of being shut down.
But, in order to add a new virtual airline, we will need the proper support for our existing virtual airlines. Every month in 2004 that each of the following occurs, we will begin work on a new virtual airline:
-Every management position filled effectively.
-Flight Hours: 4500 for January, to increase by 100 hours each month.
-Retention: at least 75%.
-No more than a 1:10 ratio of incorrect PIREPs to accepted PIREPs.
-Every virtual airline has at least 15 PIREPs, to increase by 5 every three months. (This will not apply to virtual airlines added that month.)
Why did we choose these categories?
-We need our existing management to be filled and working properly to support our existing virtual airlines. We can't expand properly if we can't support what we already have.
-Pilot activity must remain at consistently high levels.
-Pilots need to remain with SimAirline.net to provide a level of continuity. Many pilots are removed from the roster one month and return the next, wasting their time and management's, time that could otherwise be spent improving our existing services or adding new virtual airlines.
-Pilots need to focus on filing correct and error-free PIREPs. The time spent by management returning PIREPs could be used instead to fulfill other goals and provide better services. The time spent by you refiling PIREPs could be used to fly additional flights.
-Our virtual airlines need to be balanced and well-supported by our pilots.
Air Canada, Air Tahiti Nui, Alitalia, British Airways, Copa Airlines, Emirates, Korean Air, South African Airways
How did we select these airlines? There is at least one from every region of the world, and many have existing agreements with our current virtual airlines, which would provide you with more complementary flight choices.
Furthermore, nearly all of these airlines were major global airlines, offering vast new options to our members and a fast growth track for SimAirline.net. Expansion in 2004 was determined by the airline's size so as to provide incentives all year long to reach the monthly goals.
2005: Following 2004's successful expansion and SimAirline.net nearing maturity, we shifted focus from adding airlines with a global reach and looked at options that tended to complement and add variety to our group of twenty virtual airlines: Air Berlin, AOM French Airlines, Icelandair, Pan American World Airways, Thai Airways International, Varig Brasil Airlines. As in 2004, size determined expansion order.
Virtual airline expansion was only part 3 of the 2005 Operations Plan. Part 1 was:
1. Firmly Establish Identity and Goals
At this time, we don't have anything beyond "Virtual Airlines of Choice" expressing who we are and where we are going, which are essential for any organizational direction and improvement. We must establish what ideas we wish to represent as a virtual airline before we can properly determine if individual elements of our operations reflect our long-term strategy.
A set of goals was soon adopted and finalized, the first of which part is:
-To offer pilots service to worldwide destinations with a wide variety of aircraft and flights to choose from
This statement has serious effects on expansion: this goal confirmed our growing certainty that we did not want virtual airlines with greatly overlapping route networks, since these would not create much new value as far as flight options.
2006: This is intended to be the final year of expansion, with four virtual airlines to give SimAirline.net a total of thirty. This was eventually expanded to six, as we identified five regions that we felt were critical to offer service in (with two virtual airlines covering China, but in very different ways). The virtual airlines are Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Cathay Pacific Airways/Dragonair, China Southern Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Jet Airways.
In 2006, size will not determine expansion order because of perceived popularity differences between them. Unlike in 2004 and 2005, the airline's popularity does not appear to be proportional to its popularity. In addition, other factors are affecting the pending decision on expansion order.
Why 2006 Will be the End of Expansion
First, think about what SimAirline.net will offer by the end of 2006: the ability to fly for thirty-two virtual airlines. That's thirty-two times as many options as nearly every other virtual airline organization offers.
We have decided that expansion should end for several reasons:
-Service Quality: Our management team is currently very stretched out as it is, with some management holding as many as five different positions and managing three different virtual airlines. There are only a limited number of people with the strong abilities that SimAirline.net requires, and we do not wish to offer inconsistent levels of service across our organization. The consistency we do offer is what has helped drive our success.
-Variety: After our final expansion, we will have outstanding worldwide coverage. Any further expansion would likely be in areas where we already have an appropriate level of options. Furthermore, we do not wish to become a bland group of every possible airline. Should that happen, SimAirline.net would cease to be unique in its variety.
-Market Saturation: There is very little room for more virtual airlines, and the popularity we've created for many of our smaller virtual airlines is often induced. In many cases, members fly those airlines because they have joined for a larger airline we offer. Furthermore, we have observed a slowdown in the number of virtual airline pilots, a trend we expect to continue.
-Personal Time: SimAirline.net is a major time investment, and I am unable to commit much more than I currently do. As you may know, I have not flown a virtual airline flight in nearly two years because I have had to spend my time managing instead.
-Personal Interest: There are not really any other virtual airlines I would like to see as part of SimAirline.net that we will be able to add. As noted earlier, "one will not put as much effort into a project that they are not interested in."
I welcome your feedback on this important topic.