Review: FS Traffic – almost, but not quite
Just Flight’s FS Traffic, available now for £26.99, provides high quality and performance-enhanced models for Microsoft Flight Simulator’s default AI traffic management system, but is ultimately a hard sell.
As many users will know, the default AI traffic management within MSFS is….flawed, to say the least. Weird traffic seperation, regular go-arounds, and 500ft low passes of an active runway are all commonplace.
These are quirks which, despite absolutely not being Just Flight or FS Traffic’s fault, fundamentally undermine the immersion of traffic within the simulator. Is that a fatal flaw in a £26.99 product, especially bearing in mind the existence for freeware alternatives such as FSLTL and AIG? Let’s find out.
FS Traffic has been developed by Just Flight, a well respected and established developer, known in particular in MSFS for its Bae 146 Professional. First announced back in December 2021, Just Flight said FS Traffic would “add a range of high quality AI aircraft, in a wide variety of liveries, to Microsoft Flight Simulator.”
Starting with the basics, FS Traffic has a two step installation process, with two separate files needing downloading and installing separately.
Once installed, a dedicated application – Traffic Control Centre – manages the addon from outside the simulator. The homepage provides a link to the manual, a quick start guide, and some basic options and settings. The interface is somewhat basic, but nonetheless perfectly functional.
A top menu provides further options, allowing users to view the scheduled flights for a particular airport, manage aircraft models and liveries, and edit the pre-determined flight plans.
FS Traffic pulls from real flight plans and airline schedules from 2022, and Just Flight says that schedules for 2021 and 2019 will also be available to select in due course.
One element worth noting is the Control Centre cannot manage the addon’s updates. When an update is released, customers will be sent an email and will need to download the file(s) from Just Flight’s website.
Overall then, the application offers a range of useful functionality, but lacking the ability to manage updates does feel slightly disappointing, especially given that other flight simulator addons have similar accompanying applications than can manage and update the installation.
Models and liveries
FS Traffic features 48 custom built, performance optimised AI traffic models, along with more than 700 liveries. Just Flight says the liveries feature “extensive detailing (static ports, stencils etc.) for each included aircraft type.”
The models have flap and slat animations that vary depending on the stage of flight, engine reversers and heat blur, spoilers deploying on landing, and contrails. Just Flight also says it has built “custom flight models” for each aircraft, with “realistic” take-off, approach and landing speeds and distances, and “improved take-off rotation.”
The building blocks therefore are clearly there. So does does it all fare inside the simulator?
There are, in my view, two key fundamentals that impact how immersive simulator traffic feels: the visual design and effects of the models, and the way in which they move through their surroundings.
Starting with the first point, the models are good, but not amazing. While it’s great to see nicely modelled A380s, 787s, and other aircraft, all featuring accurate liveries, it’s a challenge to differentiate FS Traffic’s models from those available in FSLTL, which is, crucially, free.
The liveries, which Just Flight says have 4096×4096 textures, look okay from a distance, but definitely aren’t intended to be examined closely: markings look blurry in places, and the supposed stencils and static ports appear somewhat flat and lifeless.
Put another way; taxiing around Heathrow in say, the Fenix A320, FlyByWire A32NX, or PMDG 737, surrounded by the traffic, you can’t help but feel a very stark contrast. The quality of addons in MSFS is incredibly high, with all three of those aircraft featuring incredibly high quality textures and great attention to the detail.
There is, absolutely, a challenging balance to be struck here for Just Flight. From the outset, it was clear the team wanted to ensure FS Traffic was “FPS friendly”. This has been achieved – the performance is great, and better than both the default traffic and FSLTL. On the flip side however, the quality of the models and textures do feel slightly disappointing, especially for something that costs almost £27. The crucial fact is FS Traffic has to be judged not only on how good it is, but also in comparison to other free alternatives. Do the benefits make it worth spending £27 and not simply installing an alternative like FSLTL?
Returning to that challenging balance, I am not sure Just Flight has got it spot on just yet. The performance is great, but at the expense of visual quality. The ability for users to further fine tune how detailed the models are depending upon their setup could help change this.
Limitations and immersion
As mentioned at the start, FS Traffic is fundamentally hindered by some crucial limitations. While these are – I stress – not the fault of Just Flight, they do, again, make it hard to justify the price. In MSFS’s current state, it just doesn’t feel worth spending money on traffic addons.
Just Flight is clear about these limitations in the manual for FS Traffic, stating: “As great as Microsoft Flight Simulator is, it does have a number of limitations when it comes to the handling of AI traffic.”
The manual goes on to list some of these limitations, with the most noticeable being:
- Aircraft can sometimes randomly disappear when at a gate.
- Aircraft have only one ground contact point, causing them to ‘jump’ over gradient changes and in some cases appear to be floating or sunk into the ground.
- Aircraft loiter on the runway before beginning their take-off roll and before they exit the runway after landing. This can cause excessive go-arounds.
- Aircraft may land short or long of the runway in strong winds, when using high sim rates, or if an airport’s ILS system is not set up correctly by the scenery developer.
- Aircraft taxi slower than expected.
- Aircraft taxi with their engines at 100% power.
- Aircraft turn immediately after take-off to their first waypoint and do not follow a SID (Standard Instrument Departure).
- Departure aircraft do not climb higher than the initial altitude to which they are assigned by ATC.
- Only an extremely limited number of configuration options are active in the FlightModel.cfg, causing undesirable aircraft behaviour during all stages of flight.
- Aircraft take off on the incorrect runway (either not taking off into the wind or taking off from a runway not normally used in real-world operations).
- Aircraft taxi routes are not correct at all airports.
- Airports having incorrect gate sizes set (AI aircraft cannot use gates where the wingspan is set smaller than that of the aircraft).
- Airports having incorrect taxiway set-ups, causing AI aircraft to get stuck and eventually disappear.
- Airports not having airline codes set at gates, causing airlines to use a random selection of gates.
- Jetway animations are inconsistent when connecting to the aircraft, preventing the jetway from connecting flush to the aircraft on every occasion.
- Changing the time, date or weather during a flight temporarily removes all airborne traffic. MSFS Live Traffic and Multiplayer model matching may be inaccurate.
- Multiplayer aircraft may spawn at the same gate as an FS Traffic aircraft.
Some of these issues are more problematic than others. Unusual taxi routes and speeds, the way in which aircraft land resulting in incredibly frequent go-arounds, the single ground contact point, and the regular incorrect runway use, all result in a less immersive and enjoyable experience.
In a high quality airport, using a high quality aircraft, and some static aircraft setup, MSFS can feel incredibly immersive and realistic. Adding in FS Traffic though somewhat complicates this experience: with the simulator paused, the environment looks brilliant. The moment it is unpaused however, the way in which the traffic interacts with and moves through the environment, irrespective of the overall quality of the models, really undermines that feeling of realism.
The models may well be good. The performance may well be hugely impressive. But neither of those factors are enough to counter the way in which MSFS currently manages traffic.
It is worth mentioned though that FS Traffic is fully compatible with Vatsim – having the models ‘controlled’ by real pilots flying on Vatsim, rather than MSFS’s default traffic system, does remove some of the so-called ‘limitations’, but is still not ideal.
Reflecting on the past few weeks of using FS Traffic, it is difficult not to feel sympathetic for Just Flight. Working within the limitations of MSFS, FS Traffic is great.
But unfortunately, it is those very limitations that make FS Traffic hard to recommend, especially bearing in mind the existence of freeware alternatives. FS Traffic’s models are good, and the performance they offer is deeply impressive. But neither of those things can, when paired with MSFS’s traffic management, justify the £26.99 cost.
There is of course hope on the horizon – the Beta release notes for Sim Update 12 contain several changes to how MSFS manages traffic. With a few more incremental improvements on the MSFS side, FS Traffic could well become an addon worth considering. For now though, we recommend passing on it.
- Impressive performance
- Detailed models
- Extensive liveries
- Hindered by MSFS limitations
- Traffic Control Centre feels slightly basic