Overview – As in every social structure around the globe, VATSIM has rules which has to be followed by those, who are enlisting and become VATSIM Members. These rules are published in different documents, all available on this Website. Of course this is a network of humans, and humans - as we all know too well - are capable of error. In this article we are not talking about "flying wrong" but about those situations, where a member is starting to argue with another member or quite often disturbing other members ability to fulfill their hobby in our network. This is where Conflict Resolution comes to duty.
The primary purpose of VATSIM’s Department of Conflict Resolution is to hear all matters which involve disciplinary action against members for an alleged violation of our community’s rules. VATSIM is different from other flight simulation communities in that it offers a more structured environment for its members to engage in flight and air traffic control simulation. As part of that structured environment, VATSIM has created a set of rules which our members must follow. For the most part, the vast majority of our membership never has any contact with Conflict Resolution since these rules are common sense and are put in place to ensure that everyone enjoys our online community. This section of the VATSIM Pilot Resource Center will give you a brief overview of these rules of conduct and what to expect if you find yourself in trouble.
While nobody likes rules, you will find them in most good organizations. What sets VATSIM apart is that we have attempted to give an accused member the opportunity to both explain his or her actions and/or defend them if they believe they have been wrongly accused. In most instances, the member is given this opportunity to state his or her side of the matter before any permanent action is taken with regard to their membership. While they are certainly important and you should always be aware of them, there is no need to become overly concerned about breaking these rules because the primary goal here is to learn and have fun. There are just a few rules which pertain to your general membership and the only thing that most of them require is for you to exercise a little common sense. VATSIM believes that these rules make the online experience better for both pilots and air traffic controllers.
A. The Rules
There are many sets of rules you will run across as you make your way through the VATSIM community. Depending on where your interests lie, there are rules imposed by the various ATC levels, Virtual Airlines you join may have certain requirements you must meet and military organizations oftentimes will set out the expectations they have of their membership. If you don’t follow those rules, you may lose your membership in those particular organizations.
While your participation in these types of groups is important, it is not the same as your general VATSIM membership which is the focus of this discussion. In order to remain a member in good standing of VATSIM there are only three sets of rules you need to follow:
- the VATSIM Code of Regulations,
- the Code of Conduct and the
- User Agreement.
The full and current text of each of these documents is to be found here by switching to the Document area of this website. Since this is only an overview, it isn’t the place discuss every single rule in depth. Instead, the three sets and some of the more common rules will be discussed.
This large document sets forth the organizational structure of VATSIM. For our purposes here, the Code of Regulations contains only a few sections which are important for general members to understand. Article I contains general rules of membership. You should pay particular attention to §1.01(I) which explains the minimum usage requirements in order to maintain your VATSIM membership.
Article VI explains the procedures which must be followed to suspend and/or expel a VATSIM member. This Article also contains the rights you have if such a procedure is started against you. This Article will be discussed below.
This document contains the rules of how you are expected to conduct yourself when you log onto the VATSIM network. When it comes to your day-to-day use of VATSIM, this document and its rules are probably the most important for you to read through and understand. The Code of Conduct is divided into three sections: General Rules of Conduct, Pilot’s Conduct and Controller’s Conduct.
When it comes to pilots, the sections of the Code of Conduct that new members break most frequently (and often unknowingly) are Paragraphs A(9) and A(14).
a. Paragraph A(9) – The Unattended Connection Rule: In order to conserve our limited (and donated!) network resources, this rule was created to stop the practice of some pilots (and ATC) who logged onto the network and then remained connected without actually attending to their connection. An example would be a pilot who would undertake a long-haul flight (typically overnight) and then flip on the autopilot, remaining connected to the network while he went to sleep.
This rule requires a member to log off of the network if it is anticipated that they will be away for more than thirty (30) minutes. An explanation which is often used to defend this practice is that the pilot was in uncontrolled airspace (over the North Atlantic, for example) and that no harm, such as failing to contact ATC, resulted. Another explanation which has been used is that there were very few people on the network at the time and, therefore, the cost in terms of bandwidth used by remaining connected was not too much. It does not matter how many people are connected to the network at the time or if you are in uncontrolled or in oceanic airspace; your usage of network resources remains constant.
As a member of VATSIM, you should realize that there is a real cost in providing the network. As an old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” When you connect to one of the servers that make up our network, you are using a portion of the bandwidth that is allocated to that computer. This bandwidth is purchased by someone and it is then donated to VATSIM for our use. There is a good analogy which, I think, really illustrates this concept. Bandwidth usage is metered just as electricity or water is in your home. The more you use, the higher the bill will be when you receive it. If you are leaving the house in the morning for work or school, would you turn the faucet on and leave the water running down the drain all day long? Nobody would knowingly do this because it is a waste of a limited resource and it will make your water bill much more expensive.
The exact same thing happens, however, if you leave your connection to VATSIM unattended. The only difference is that you are not paying the bill. Someone else is paying for that bandwidth and if it becomes too expensive, VATSIM will lose the use of that server. We must all take care to conserve this valuable and donated resource by not using it in a wasteful or irresponsible manner.
If you are found to be unresponsive for more than thirty minutes, you will be subject to immediate removal from the network. Repeat offenders will be subject to suspensions and/or expulsions. One thing to note is that staff is not always required to give you the full thirty minutes. If you fly into controlled airspace and are unresponsive, you can be removed immediately. The point to remember is that if you intend to be away from your computer for more than 30 minutes or you find yourself suddenly needing to leave, take a brief moment to disconnect from the network.
b. Paragraph A(14) – The Non-Active Callsign Rule: The purpose of this rule is, once again, to conserve network resources. New members, when they first log on, are encouraged to observe how things operate on the network. This helps to learn both procedure and phraseology (a fancy word which means how ATC and pilots speak to one another). Observing means exactly what you think – logging on to VATSIM and just sitting on a frequency listening to the action.
In the past, however, some members began abusing this practice by logging for unreasonably long periods of time in which they were neither learning, flying nor providing any ATC services. Typically, what these members were doing was talking to their friends and using VATSIM as a chat service. Since our resources are limited, this rule was created to curb this practice. If a supervisor or network administrator determines that your callsign has become non-active (as defined by the rule), then you will at first be warned. Subsequent infractions of this rule could result in suspension and/or expulsion from VATSIM.
Keep in mind that legitimate observation to learn will always be encouraged as it is a necessary practice to become comfortable with using and functioning within the VATSIM environment. It is only when you cross the line between legitimate observing and using VATSIM as a chat program that you will be in violation of this rule.
This document covers the terms of your usage of the VATSIM.net network. The User Agreement contains many of the same terms as the Code of Conduct. There are, however, additional rules covering conduct while on the network, mailing lists, newsgroups, forums and other communication venues. In addition, the User Agreement requires all VATSIM members to subscribe to the VATSIM.net NOTAMS list which is used to notify members about important announcements regarding VATSIM and their VATSIM accounts.
B. Code of Regulations Article VI – Suspension and Expulsion of a VATSIM.net Member
As stated above, Article VI of the VATSIM.net Code of Regulations contains the rights you have if a suspension or expulsion procedure is started against you. This Article sets out the rules which are required to be followed by Supervisors, Divisional Conflict Resolution Managers, Regional Conflict Resolution Panels and the Board of Governors Appeal Panel before any such action is taken against your membership account.
- Referral to a DCRM: If a Supervisor or Administrator determines that your alleged violation of either the Code of Regulations, Code of Conduct or User Agreement is serious enough to warrant a suspension of your access privileges for a definite term or to permanently expel you from VATSIM, they will refer the case to a Divisional Conflict Resolution Manager (DCRM). The DCRM that receives this referral will either be the one in the VATSIM division you have selected or the one in the division where the alleged conduct took place. You will receive a notification letter from the DCRM who has been assigned your case with the instructions of where to submit any written statement that you wish the DCRM to consider during the investigation. The DCRM is required to render a decision within thirty (30) days of receipt of the referral. For more information on a DCRM investigation, please read through Article VI., §6.07(A) of the VATSIM Code of Regulations.
- Appeal to the RCRP: A member has the right to appeal the decision of a DCRM to a Regional Conflict Resolution Panel (RCRP). In most cases, the RCRP which is assigned the appeal will sit in the same region as the division which is served by the DCRM who initially heard the case. You will know which RCRP will hear your appeal because the DCRM will include an email address in his decision.
- Timely Appeal: While there is a right to appeal any DCRM decision to an RCRP, it must be timely in order for the RCRP to consider your appeal. Under the Code of Regulations, an appeal to the RCRP is considered timely if it is made within ten (10) days of your receipt of the DCRM’s decision. If your appeal is made more than ten days after receipt of the DCRM’s decision, you will lose your right to have your appeal heard by the RCRP as it has no authority to hear it after this point in time.
1. Exception to the Ten Day Appeal Rule: If you have been permanently suspended by a DCRM, then that decision is required to automatically be reviewed by an RCRP. Since such an appeal is automatic, you are not required to make a formal appeal within ten days.
The RCRP will hear all timely appeals as well as all cases, without exception, which involve permanent expulsion. The job of the RCRP is to review whether the reasoning used by the DCRM was correct given the evidence that was before him . This means that you should concentrate your appeal on showing why the DCRM was incorrect or unfair in the decision. You should not submit any new evidence for the RCRP to consider unless such evidence was unavailable at the time that the DCRM heard your case.
The RCRP is required to reach a decision within thirty (30) days of the date of filing of your appeal.
b. Final Decision: The decision of an RCRP is final in all cases where the formal period of suspension is not greater than ninety (90) days. This means that you will have exhausted all of your appeals if your suspension is not more than ninety (90) days. If the RCRP agrees with a DCRM’s decision which imposes a suspension greater than ninety (90) days (including permanent expulsion), then you may appeal to the VATSIM.net Board of Governors Appeals Panel.
For more information on an appeal to an RCRP, please read Article VI., §6.07(B) of the VATSIM Code of Regulations.
- Appeal to the VATSIM.net Board of Governors Appeals Panel: In all cases involving suspensions of more than ninety (90) days up to permanent expulsion, you have a right to appeal the decisions of the DCRM and RCRP to the VATSIM.net Board of Governors. Unlike an appeal to the RCRP, this appeal is discretionary. This means that the Board of Governors Appeal Panel is NOT obligated to hear the appeal. It may, without explanation, turn down your appeal and let the decision of the RCRP stand. The sole exception to this rule of discretionary appeal, however, is in the case of a permanent expulsion. The Board of Governors Appeal Panel MUST review all cases where the DCRM and the RCRP have recommended that a member be permanently expelled from VATSIM.
- Timely Appeal: If your suspension is eligible for review by the Board of Governors Appeal Panel, then you must make a timely appeal before it will be considered. This is no different than what takes place with appeals to the RCRP. Under the Code of Regulations, an appeal to the Board of Governors Appeal Panel is considered timely if it is made within ten (10) days of your receipt of the RCRP’s decision. If your appeal is made more than ten days after receipt of the RCRP’s decision, you will lose your right to have it heard. The Board of Governors Appeal Panel has no authority to hear the appeal after this point in time.
As with appeals to the RCRP, there is an exception to this ten day rule in the case of a permanent expulsion. The Board of Governors Appeal Panel must automatically review and approve the decisions of a DCRM and an RCRP to permanently expel a member from VATSIM. Therefore, there is no need to make a formal appeal within ten days.
- Final Decision: The Board of Governors Appeal Panel is required to render a decision on all appeals before it within sixty (60) days of the filing of a timely appeal. The decision of the Board of Governors Appeal Panel, in all cases, shall be final and there are no other avenues of appeal.
For more information on an appeal to the Board of Governors Appeal Panel, please read Article VI., §6.07(C) of the VATSIM Code of Regulations.
Conclusion – As we stated at the beginning, VATSIM’s rules are put into place to make the online experience for both pilots and air traffic controllers as educational and entertaining as possible. As a member of VATSIM, you will never find yourself in the Conflict Resolution process so long as you exercise a little common sense when you are on the network. If you find yourself facing a conflict resolution matter, VATSIM has tried to make the process as fair as possible by giving you the right to explain your side to a Divisional Conflict Resolution. In addition, you can have any DCRM decision reviewed by a Regional Conflict Resolution Panel. Finally, in certain instances, your case may even be reviewed by the Board of Governors Appeal Panel. This multiple-tiered conflict resolution process has been put into place to make sure that anyone who is formally denied membership privileges has the opportunity to be heard first.
Hopefully, this brief overview has answered most of the questions you may have as a pilot using VATSIM. If you have any questions, please feel free to direct them to the VATSIM Vice President of Conflict Resolution via email by going to the VATSIM website (http://vatsim.net), selecting <Contact VATSIM> from the User Services menu in the left frame and then selecting <Board of Governors> in the main window. Click on the Vice President of Conflict Resolution link.
It is our hope that you enjoy all the benefits VATSIM has to offer. Short of the real thing, you will not find a better enhancement to your Flight Simulation experience.