From the Desk of VATUSA1 Retired

Don Desfosse

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From the Desk of VATUSA1 Retired
« on: March 05, 2013, 10:56:37 pm »
Well, it's been a month since I took over the reins as VATUSA1, and I wanted to touch base and let folks know what I am seeing from my perch -- kind of a "State of the Division Address".....

When I gave my "acceptance speech", I highlighted four focus areas that I had for the Division (listed possibly, though not necessarily, in any order of importance):

- Instituting a staff that will help move the Division forward
- Focus on an innovative and more-standardized training program
- Retaining talent at all levels
- Growth

With the key appointment of a new USA3, the USA HQ staff is now full.  It's a good thing I have my own parking space -- it's getting harder and harder to find parking in the lot!  I think this is really important.  I do subscribe to the age-old adage, "many hands make light work."  Those that know me know that 1. I have a challenging job, 2. I have young kids, and 3. I don't (and can't) do it right all the time, every time (just ask my wife!!!).  So to have a full staff, all actively aligned behind a common vision for the Division and actively contributing to seeing that vision to fruition is key.  I counted last night (luckily I didn't have to take my socks off!), and of the 10 VATUSA leadership positions, 5 of us are new within the last month (USA1, 2, 3, 5 and 7)!  So dust is coming off the desks, we are settling into our new roles, and all of us are leaning forward, devising strategies and goals to align behind the vision of ensuring that VATUSA is one of the strongest, active and most admired Divisions in VATSIM, through ordinary people achieving extraordinary results.

With Zach now in the Training Director hot-seat, we as a Division can start work on the second focus area listed above, focusing on an innovative and more-standardized training program.  Zach, Bob and I all have some strong ideas about ways that we can move forward, and I know that Zach will be soliciting your input on what things we can do to improve.  I expect to see a training program concept be born, and multiple projects being devised and executed, eventually leading to a training program that the Division is proud to align behind, because it makes things easier for our students, our training staff, and actively improves retention and promotes growth.  I will caution folks, however, that this vision won't be achieved overnight.  Combined with the need to solicit input, align folks behind vision and goals, garner the right support, and the fact that we are all volunteers that do this stuff "on the side", it will likely take more like 12-18 months for the training program to look and feel like what I expect it eventually will.  That's OK, though.  As long as we have measurable progress every week and month, the change should be palpable enough for our members to see, feel and support. 

This will go a long way toward the last two focus areas that I mentioned, retaining talent and growth.  It is not, however, the only thing we need to do to achieve that vision.  Matt is spinning up the Events Department, and Bob and the ATDs are hard at work working with the ATMs to get the ARTCC leadership slots filled with capable people.  There is a lot of activity focused on people-infrastructure right now -- setting the stage to make sure the right people are aligned in the right roles to make the right decisions and execute the right things to make this a better Division for all.

Is it going to be perfect?  Never.  Will I and the staff make all the right decisions?  No way (again, my wife will be happy to vouch for that in my case!).  Are we all doing the best that we can now and focused on learning from our mistakes to make this place better?  Absolutely.

My message this month:  Expect great things, but don't expect them to be served to you on a silver platter.  Become part of a constructive solution by offering your talent and passion to actively make this place a better place to "live and work".  Yes, it can sometimes be a lot of work for a hobby, but we're building a better hobby that we can all get more enjoyment out of, hopefully for a lot longer-term.  Your personal investment now will yield a better return on investment for all. 

I look forward to working with you!
« Last Edit: February 05, 2018, 12:34:25 pm by Mark Hubbert »
Don Desfosse
Division Director Emeritus, VATUSA

Richard Bonneau

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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2013, 08:43:00 am »
Great news, Don!  

Excellent roadmap for VATUSA's future.  All of us at ZBW are looking forward to working with your staff to attain the Division's goals.

[img]http://www.metacraft.com/zbw/graphics/sigs/1029885.png\" border=\"0\" class=\"linked-sig-image\" /]

Rich Bonneau
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« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2013, 02:00:57 pm »
[img]http://i876.photobucket.com/albums/ab330/bobcarmona/Dory_zps4b4821fb.jpg\\\" border=\\\"0\\\" class=\\\"linked-image\\\" /]
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Don Desfosse

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« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2013, 08:37:28 pm »
Greetings from Taipei, Taiwan....  Sometimes it feels like my business trips here are the only way I can get ahead -- it's Saturday night in the USA but Sunday morning here, so I guess that means I'm ahead!

You know how they say "two steps forward, one step back"....  Well, it's been that kind of month.  At the VATUSA staff level, we have been dealing with a number of attacks on various ARTCC websites as well as the VATUSA website as well.  Nothing's perfect, and there will probably be more of that to come, but it has pushed us to increase our website and data protections, which will hopefully at least make it harder in the future to carry out these types of attacks.  I often say to folks, "if only those hackers would put their time and energy into protecting the US from cyberwarfare, or working on a cure for cancer, what a better world this would be."  I'll keep hoping.  As a result of some of the protections, some "interesting" side effects occurred -- VATSIM pushed a new password to VATUSA to allow our servers to synchronize that broke a few data management functions for a while, including the previously-seamless new-member and transfer startup process.  Sorry to everyone who was affected by that.  And, for a short time one day, in response to a nice Happy Birthday message I sent to a VATUSA staff member and copied the staff, a few of the VATUSA and VATSIM staff, thinking that my account may have been hacked, pulled all my VATSIM and VATUSA permissions for a few hours....  Weird looking from the outside in....  As I quipped to everyone afterwards, "I guess no VATUSA Division Director has tried to be nice to his team....  Last time I do that!!!"    But, unfortunately, the distractions of all the hacking have taken some time and energy away from progress, which disappoints me.  Sitting here writing this with a sprained and broken ankle propped up on a chair and some pillows reminds me that some things in life can slow you down for a while, but a short while, and I and we will be at full steam ahead again in no time.  

Regardless of the speedbumps, VATUSA continues to make forward progress on many fronts.  From my viewpoint on the VATUSA Division Staff team:

Zach is doing yeoman's work with managing training program progression.  That is probably pretty transparent to most folks except for all the TAs and some of the ARTCC staff, as a lot of infrastructure needs to be revamped and/or upgraded before things roll out, but rest assured, progress is happening on that front.  Bob and Michael McClelland have been focused on keeping the bad guys at bay, Matt has been working with folks to standardize and improve how we post and display events, Michael Martin has been shoring up the site against more potential attacks and fixing the breakages forced on him by VATSIM (and most recently by me!  Sorry MM!!), the ATDs have been trying to keep peace and increase standardization within their regions, and because none of us are giving Ric enough work to do (ATMs, did you know that if you have staff positions to post, you can work with Ric to get them posted for you?), he continues to steal pencils and pads of paper from the supply closet and raid my liquor cabinet.

I continue to be jazzed by all of the events that are being held in VATUSA.  FNOs have always held a very special place in my heart, and no one has disappointed there, but the other events that the ARTCCs have been hosting have been great too.  I try to participate personally in as many as my family and work schedules allow (that means not a lot, but I try!).  I think having high-quality events is key to retention and growth on the network -- they attract controllers and pilots alike, and are usually a heck of a lot of fun.  I'd also like to thank Bob Carmona and Tom Seeley for their work with VATASIA coordinating (and everyone who came out to control) the recent Tokyo/Guam event.  It has also been really wonderful to see inter-ARTCC and inter-Division events, and just plain old good fashioned neighborhood ARTCCs coming out to support their neighbors during FNOs and other events.  There have been several over the past month, including one going on right now, and many of these are pulling in just as much traffic as an FNO.  I've seen that type of inter-ARTCC cooperation growing, and that is SO important to growing the network's quality, quantity and continued viability.  Most importantly, it's just more fun.

Although I would love all of the ARTCCs to have doubled in size over the last couple of months, I do recognize that continuous improvement is an incremental and iterative process.  We will continue to push forward, and ask that you do the same.  Focus on quality, excellence and quantity.  Let's build a growth spiral that sees us with more and more quality and quantity of ATC on this network, which will attract more pilots, which will attract more ATC, and keep that growth cycle going.  It's in our hands, and every member of this Division can make it happen.

All the best,

Don
« Last Edit: April 27, 2013, 08:51:42 pm by Don Desfosse »
Don Desfosse
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Mark Hubbert

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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2013, 12:33:34 pm »
I raided some liquor from your cabinet too.
Mark Hubbert
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« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2013, 07:58:58 am »
Quote from: Mark Hubbert
I raided some liquor from your cabinet too.
Guess that means I'm running to the liquor store like all USA5's. do I at least get to use the division credit card this time?  
Matt Bartels - MT
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Unless otherwise stated, opinions are my own and do not represent the official position of the VATSIM Board of Governors

Don Desfosse

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« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2013, 08:44:16 am »
Good news:  Absolut - ely, use the card.  [haha - lame attempt at a pun!]
Bad news:  With my liquor expenses so high this year, your raises will all be a bit lower to fund the shortfall.
Good news:  You'll all be so primed, you won't care....
« Last Edit: May 07, 2013, 08:45:59 am by Don Desfosse »
Don Desfosse
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Dhruv Kalra

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« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2013, 08:23:54 am »
It's ok. We can just start taking a furlough day a pay period...oh wait...
Dhruv Kalra
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« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2014, 07:40:49 am »
Happy 2014, everyone!

Wow....  What a year it's been.  I cannot believe that 2013 has flown by as quickly as it has, and cannot believe that I'm coming up on 11 months as your Division Director.  The New Year is a great time for personal and professional introspection, and, usually as a result, those darned New Year's Resolutions.  Just about 11 months ago, Bob and I were ripped from our easy chairs while watching the Superbowl to talk to the VATNA Region folks about leading one of VATSIM's largest and most vibrant Divisions, VATUSA.  They probably figured it was their only chance -- a few beers into each of us and some good old-fashioned Superbowl testosterone were in play.    

In any case, it was pretty important that VATUSA be focused on maintaining, and growing, it's skill and ability as a Division to support VATSIM as a whole, primarily through keeping this hobby worthwhile and fun for our members.  I already knew, but got to know 100 times better, that the VATSIM network (and VATUSA) cannot at all times be all things for everyone.  We come from all walks of life, all ages, all experience levels, some like flying more, some like ATC more, and some love each equally.  Just like in any community that survives as long as VATUSA and VATSIM does, there is pretty much a normal distribution of folks.  Most are good, fun-loving, hobby loving folks that enjoy participating in the community, some go over and above by giving an extraordinary amount of themselves to help others succeed in this hobby, and there are a few rotten apples out there.  And various things have come together to morph VATSIM over the years.  When I first joined VATSIM in 2007,  I was attracted due to the much higher quality, realism, and quantity of ATC and pilots on the network than existed on any other online network.  It seems soon thereafter, the Zone went away and we got a lot more folks.  Many of those couldn't even spell ATC, never mind know how to do or use it.  The resultant drop in quality drove a lot of our good folks away, which is a real shame.  But many stayed, and continue to fight, every day, to walk the razor blade between realism and fun.  And we attracted hundreds, if not thousands, of new, well-qualified members that align very well with VATSIM's goals and ideals.  It's a delicate balance; never perfect for everyone at all times, but generally good enough for most.  That balance is what we strive to achieve, every day.  

With that backdrop in mind, Bob and I were aligned coming out of the gate, and still are, on our vision for the Division:

- Instituting a staff that will help move the Division forward
- Focus on an innovative and more-standardized training program
- Retaining talent at all levels
- Growth

We've had mixed results in 2013.  We quickly instituted a full VATUSA staff that is running and functioning on all cylinders.  Yes, life does creep in and throw us for a loop sometimes, but those have, thankfully, been temporary speedbumps on the road to success.  I pride myself on generally quick response to folks' needs, issues, queries, etc., and set this bar high for the staff as well.  I think we do a pretty good job.  Sometimes, though, we get reminded that this is a hobby.  Family needs take precedence.  Work/school take precedence.  We've had staff members move halfway across the country and need a week to get internet back up.  We had a staff member take a new job that required significantly more time and energy than before, and as a result, he had to step down from VATUSA HQ.  And, just like work/school, sometimes we need a well-deserved vacation to recharge our batteries and let us hit the street running when we get back.  Life happens, and we do the best we can.  But I am proud of this staff and how it functions.  We back each other up when we are temporarily sidelined.  And I'm glad that the pencil and notepad theft has diminished to almost nothing (though I think that comes at a cost -- the raids on my liquor cabinet have been much more frequent and severe lately -- don't think I haven't noticed, guys!)   .

Kent just came on board five weeks ago as VATUSA's newest Training Director.  He has some great projects in the initial design phase that are aligned with the Division's goals of a more innovative and standardized training program, retaining talent, and growth.  This is key, but it is also a HUGE undertaking, that will require significant open-mindedness, acceptance and SUPPORT from every ARTCC.  2014 will be a huge year in terms of further developing, testing and rolling out these projects.  As preliminary designs are matured, more information will come, but major goals associated with these projects include overhauling our VATUSA training materials, standardizing basic GRP training enough that Instructors can effectively be shared as a Division-wide resource (this will help those ARTCCs with less-than-optimal training capacity), and speeding the time for new ATC students to obtain initial qualifications.  Getting 22 ARTCCs aligned is like herding cats, so it's important that a lot of time, planning, input, corroboration and collaboration occur to ensure that this is a successful, aligned venture.  As a result, and as I'm sure you can imagine, this will not be an overnight process.  Nor will it be complete in 2014.  But we look forward to moving forward, as it's the most important thing I believe VATUSA needs to do in 2014.

Events keep on trucking (never enough of them, in my mind, as the big ones are really awesome, and the smaller ones provide great opportunities for training and certification, seeing lesser-known airports, and are just plain fun).  Matt Bartels does a great job of trying to facilitate fair events policies that promote as many events as possible, while not stealing traffic from other, existing, events.  FNOs continue to be great fun, and one thing that I personally look forward to every week.  I'm also happy to see more ARTCCs reaching out and asking for division-wide help early if their home staff can't bring enough quantity controllers to ensure a successful FNO.  Many hands make light work.  And the best FNOs are a careful balance of not overworking a few poor controllers to the point of burnout while at the same time not watering down ATC such that people aren't engaged enough to enjoy it.  Having enough controllers on to keep facilities open for a long enough duration (one of my pet peeves) without controllers losing quality, going down the tubes, and burning out/logging off is important and benefits not only the morale of the hosting FNO, but improves the VATUSA FNO program as a whole.  2014 will see some more international FNOs and events, starting with the January 10th FNO, which is being hosted by VATPAC and features FNO in Australia!  I don't know about you, but I'm already sick of all the cold, snow, and power outages, and am excited to be heading down under to Melbourne (YMML), Canberra (YSCB), Sydney (YSSY), Gold Coast (YBCG), and Brisbane (YBBN), where warm, summer temperatures, beaches, beautiful [scenery] and summer flying are going to be awesome.  

Michael Martin continues to do yeoman's work supporting, fixing and improving VATUSA's ancient web infrastructure.  It seems like every time we fix or improve something, we break something else that we didn't expect, so I apologize to those who've been affected by the bugs and gremlins in our code.  The existing code has a lot of tentacles into VATSIM's code, and as they (and we) have made fixes and upgrades, the tentacles reach farther and sometimes get tangled.  Michael does a great job of untangling and getting things back on track pretty quickly.  And he has also secretly been working on VATUSA Data Services v2, a project I look forward to.  With Michael's skill, I have no doubt that the code will work near-flawlessly.  And, if it's broke, he can't blame anyone else! (just kidding!)  

Ric Ruminski continues to provide effective and important communications support, though I wish the ATMs would use him more.  He also continues to help me try to herd cats (the USA HQ staff) and keep me in line, all of which I appreciate.

I said before that many hands make light work, and thank goodness for the Air Traffic Directors, Tom Seeley, Mark Hubbert and Kevin Copeland.  They work tirelessly to ensure alignment within their regions as well as with VATUSA as a whole.  

And as they say, last, but certainly not least, Michael McClelland, our DCRM, is one USA staff member you don't ever want to meet.  Or at least not unless it's on your own terms.....   All kidding aside, Michael does a phenomenal job of being fair and just as our Conflict Resolution Manager.  He walks a particularly sharp razor blade, ensuring a fair and impartial application of VATSIM's rules, helping to weed out those that are fundamentally incompatible with our community, and helping to keep this a fun place to be, work, and enjoy our hobby.  I can't say enough about how good a job Michael does, and he is widely recognized across all of VATSIM as one of the best, if not the best, DCRM in all of VATSIM.  We are all lucky to have him.

We are all lucky to have all the staff, at all levels, who put in just a bit (and in many cases, a lot) more to help new folks get acclimated and succeed, and to keep this hobby fun and enjoyable for all of us.  Thank you for what you continue to do for VATUSA and all of VATSIM.

I know this is a long post, but I feel it's important for everyone to be able to see the landscape from this perspective once in a while, to know what's going on in the background, to help ensure alignment, and to know how hard so many work to make things better for all of us.  We will continue to have challenges, both personal, professional and with the hobby.  It's through the skill and grace of many, though, that we overcome these challenges, grow and improve.  I wish you all the best for a safe, fun and enjoyable 2014!
« Last Edit: August 12, 2014, 08:50:45 pm by Don Desfosse »
Don Desfosse
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« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2014, 09:40:12 pm »
Where is the time going?  They say time flies when you're having fun -- so I must be having a blast!

I wanted to check in and give a brief update on where the Division is from my viewpoint.

Our challenges remain the same -- retain and grow our talent while having fun at the same time and bucking the overall the trend in VATSIM of slowly but steadily getting quieter, less engaged, and less exciting.  I'm not seeing a dramatic change, mind you, but a steady period of decline.  I attribute that to the same challenges most volunteer organizations that have been around for a long time face:  people being busy outside the organization with "real world" stuff (home, family, school, work, kids, etc. -- a/k/a other priorities), a lack of revolutionary new stuff happening within the organization, and a sense of comfort and contentment that leads to complacency.  We have had some good upside too.  These include the deployment of vPilot, outstanding events including Cross the Pond, Cross the Pacific, Light up America and great FNOs, including our FNO in Australia, plus a whole host of ARTCC-sponsored events.  These include ongoing development of tools such as vERAM, Swift, Fly and vATIS that will make our lives better and easier.  These include excellent training being provided to hundreds of students, growing a new generation of very capable controllers.  These include a whole host of good people stepping up and continuing to volunteer their precious time with the goal of making our hobby better for all of us.  And so many more things that we can and should be proud of.

But just like in RW ATC or flying or driving or in so many other things, complacency kills.  And that's what I'd like us to all think about as we determine our own personal goals for the rest of 2014, and beyond.  What can we do to grow our online presence?  What can we do to nurture the new OBS and reduce the amount of attrition we see?  What can we do to develop the next generation of mentors and instructors, and deploy less-human-dependent training tools (videos, online course content, etc.)?  What can we do to schedule more events, whether we use those to challenge our certified controllers, and/or use them as an opportunity to train and certify students to higher levels?  What can we do to make this place bigger, better and more fun?  We need to continually think of these types of things and others to help grow our organization and make it more enjoyable for us -- controllers and pilots alike!

I also wanted to touch base on a few initiatives that are ongoing.

1.  Development of the VATUSA Training Academy is still progressing, albeit more slowly than planned (due to a number of issues, but primarily RW obligations/priorities on the part of a few of the key team members).  We are targeting an October preliminary review, with a release shortly thereafter.

2.  Due to a number of issues across the Division, we've decided to take a closer look at the Instructor appointment process.  A new instructor appointment policy was peer reviewed by several ATMs and TAs, comments incorporated, and a new policy released.  Those who know me know that I'm not a huge fan of policies.  Most are implemented due to failures and/or boneheaded moves in the past.  Some are neeed, some are not, and some are needed for a time and can then be tweaked or eliminated once the root cause of the original issue is eliminated.  We'll see how this does for a bit; feel free to provide your input and helpful comments and suggestions to Ryan Geckler (USA3).

3.  Cross the Pond and Cross the Pacific are always in need of additional Oceanic controllers.  If you're already a C1 or higher rated controller and would like to expand your horizons and learn Atlantic Oceanic for Cross the Pond, please get in touch with John Cierpial (probott -at- gmail.com) and let him know I sent you.  If you want to learn Pacific Oceanic, contact Mark Hubbert (USA7).  This invitation is technically open to everyone, though, of course, if you're on staff at an event ARTCC, we'd kind of expect you to support your ARTCC's needs first.

4.  Matt Bartels (USA5) recently refreshed the ACE Team roster to ensure everyone on it is still active and willing to participate.  Check out his post in the forums, but if you're a skilled controller interested in short-notice deployments to any ARTCC to assist with staffing events, the ACE Team might be a great challenge for you.


That's about all I can think of right about now.  I hope everyone has been having, and continues to have, a great summer!
« Last Edit: August 13, 2014, 09:06:03 pm by Don Desfosse »
Don Desfosse
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« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2014, 11:56:08 am »
What an awesome pick-me-up!  Some great VATSIM times.

Coming off a gruleing, but great, experience with Cross the Pond a little over a week ago, where I participated as a controller, I have just had two more great experiences in a row as a pilot.

Although I've wanted to for years, last night was the first time I could participate in the ZLA Suicide Ops event.  I had a great time flying between KSAN and KLAX last night seeing lots of opposite direction traffic at both airports.  There was a perfect amount of traffic at KLAX -- the controllers wre busy, the ramps and taxiways had plenty of traffic, the rapid staccato on frequency was perfect -- it felt like I was really flying into LA.  The controllers were very skilled, as were most of the pilots (like 97% of the pilots I heard were spot on; I was worried that I'd end up bringing down the average!).  This high quality led to an awesome VATSIM experience.  Quality is the main reason I joined VATSIM, and I was so enthused by both the quantity and quality of everyone in the event -- pilots and controllers alike -- that it was just a fantastic event.  Thank you to everyone!

I've also never been able to experience joining the WorldFlight experience.  I'm in, today, for just one leg, KSLC to KMEM, though I wish I could do more.  There are currently 70+ aircraft participating in this leg.  I'm somewhere in the middle.  I got to experience 20 people calling tower at once for their clearance, totally swamping him while he tried to still launch aircraft and land a few, too.  Then, thankfully, ground came online, and the 20+ people flooded him asking for clearance (poor guy).  Most folks knew the controllers were swamped, and were patient.  Most, anyway.  When I got into line for takeoff, I was number 8, and there was a steady stream behind me.  Being from the US, and knowing US procedures and terminology better than many of the international pilots participating, I was able to time things and get them as efficient as possible.  And every single controller (of the 10 or so I've talked to so far, and I'm not done yet) has been absolutely fantastic.  Quality is excellent (my only complaint for a few guys, and it's a pet peeve of mine that all of my former students have had to endure, is "oh" is not a number, "zero" is, so it's not American Thirty-Six Oh Nine, it's American Thirty-Six Zero Nine).  I've controlled every Cross the Pond event since I've joined VATSIM, and never flown it.  But all I can think of this entire time is "this is seriously what it must look/feel like to fly CTP (except for the huge overwater piece, of course  )."  And, it's great for the controllers in the middle of the country to experience the insane traffic levels the guys who have controlled Cross the Pond experience twice a year.  Best of all, in addition to being a great experience for everyone who participates, it's a charity event with the proceeds going to a great cause.  I'm so glad that us from the USA can support this great VATSIM cause.

EDIT:  Got another leg in, KRDU to KMIA.  Similar wonderful experience with great quality ATC.  My hat is off to everyone who participated.  Thank you!

Great experiences like these are the things that help me recharge my battery from the drains like [insert all the crap that goes on here], etc.  It makes me more proud of all the VATUSA members that step up to make our events a success.  It renews and refreshes my love, passion and dedication for VATUSA and VATSIM.  Thank you!
« Last Edit: November 04, 2014, 12:07:25 am by Don Desfosse »
Don Desfosse
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« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2015, 08:06:23 am »
Greetings, Team USA!

Just a quick update on a few key items.

1.  EC Proposal to update GRP

Since the eruption of the 26 page, 387 post VATSIM forum thread this past November, things had been very, very quiet until a few weeks ago.  I had honestly thought it was just going to go away quietly.  Still no data showing where we have problems as I have been steadfastly requesting.  But the latest tact has been interesting -- instead of a wholesale "drop all majors" push, it seems to be more like a "let's develop criteria that we should use to define majors" followed by an evaluation of all existing majors to that criteria.  Also somewhat promising is a thought that there could and should be both hard (data-driven) and soft (qualitative) criteria used.  I still expect a call to reduce our list of majors by about half, but I am no longer thinking the EC will toss out a "kill all the majors" edict.  Significant discussion continues.

2.  VATUSA Academy
Dead for now.  Although it is a great idea, we just didn't get the number of volunteers we were hoping for.  I still hope to resurrect this project at some point, and will be seeking a project manager (like a real, no-kidding, certified/credentialed and experienced professional project manager) to step up and lead this effort.  Not to do all the work, but to really, no-kidding, lay it out like a professional deployment project complete with vision, goals, and an integrated master schedule.

3.  Website redesign and forum migration
Daniel has been a very, very busy beaver!  Forum migration is complete and in post-deployment maintenance.  Pretty smooth considering we were moving from a heavily modified, nearly-decade old, no-longer-supported instantiation of an entirely different software package.  Daniel's done a great job of squashing the few bugs we had.  He's been doing yeoman's work coding and planning a transition from our current website to a new development that will take advantage of all today's best architecture.  Much of the work will be behind the scenes work designed to maximize efficiencies between the ARTCCs and VATUSA reducing the administrative burden of running individual ARTCCs.

4.  Membership Data

Did you know that VATUSA has seen a 4% increase in membership since the first of this year?  There are a number of things we can attribute this to, perhaps most notably vPilot, P3D and FSX:SE that have all helped to reinvigorate interest both in VATSIM as well as in our hobby.  But the number of active controllers and time online is diminishing.  Why?  What can we do to increase student advancement, retaining controllers and more online time?

5.  Events
Maybe linked to the prior paragraph, but did you know that VATUSA is, on average, hosting 26% fewer events than we were last year?  When I was a new pup, events were a heck of a lot of fun (still are), a great way to improve my skills because of the quantity, quality, and breadth of traffic I had to work, a great way to stretch and get certified under the watchful eye of those more experienced than I, a great way to increase camaraderie within my ARTCC, and did I mention just plain old fun!  Yeah, I know it's a busy time of year, especially with school finals, kids' sports, summer vacations, etc.  But let's look at filling our events calendar up a bit more!

6.  Policies
As has been mentioned a couple of times in various forum threads over the last few months, a VATUSA policies update is way overdue.  As those who know me know, I am very much a fan of "less is more" when it comes to policies, and that policies should simply serve as guardrails to ensure ARTCCs and members continue on the good road to always doing the right thing.  A combination of wanting to see what plays out with the next GRP update and my crazy work/life schedule has kept this project solidly at number 18 on the to-do list.  But it's on the list....

7.  Find a Friend, Be a Buddy
Who else do you know that would enjoy the VATSIM experience, either as a pilot, a controller, or both?  How many CFIs are on here that have former students that use a flight sim yet aren't active members of VATSIM and/or VATUSA?  I'll tell you, with a challenging job and family commitments that suck up a ton of what used to be my real world flying time, flying and controlling on VATSIM has kept me relatively sharp and certainly up to speed on changes in aviation rules and regulations, safety, best practices, etc.  Why not find a friend, former or current student, etc. and invite them to check out VATSIM, while offering to help them get set up, started on the road, and be their mentor/buddy along the way?


I do hope everyone has had a wonderful Spring, school students see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it's not a train coming the other way!).  I challenge every member of the Division to ensure that we are all conducting ourselves as proud members of a great community, training and mentoring new students and members, and ensuring that everything we do is aligned with our goals of retaining and growing our talent while having fun at the same time.  In closing, to borrow from Cape Air, MOCHA HAGoDTI!  (If you don't know what that means, Google it! :) )
Don Desfosse
Division Director Emeritus, VATUSA

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2015, 03:12:29 pm »
By the way, we reached a nice milestone on June 29th -- we reached 17,000 members in VATUSA (both ATC and pilots).  Nice to see us growing!  Now, our challenge is to retain and grow the number of ATC and Instructors/Mentors we have!
Don Desfosse
Division Director Emeritus, VATUSA

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #13 on: December 26, 2015, 10:29:04 pm »
As we get ready to put a bow on 2015, and look forward to what 2016 has to bring, I thought I'd provide a quick update.  I'll keep it relatively quick, and mention that I'll touch on these, and more, topics during the (what I believe is a first-ever) VATUSA Town Hall meeting, scheduled for the evening of Thursday January 14, 2016 (USA local time, technically 0230Z on Fri Jan 15th).  More info can be found here:  http://www.vatusa.net/forums/index.php?topic=5064.0

1. EC Proposal to update GRP (and remove Major airports/airspaces):  The proposal was, thankfully, withdrawn as announced in September. This, I believe, would have been one of the most significant, negative, things to happen to VATUSA that I've ever seen, so I was very thankful that common sense prevailed and the proposal was withdrawn.  Key arguments I made, several times, were that the proposal to eliminate all Major airports/airspace in VATSIM was a global solution to what was definitely not a global problem, and that this global solution was being offered without any data/analysis to prove that there was truly a problem, where that alleged-but-not-substantiated problem existed (it certainly was not global), and whether the proposal offered the right solution to the aforementioned alleged-but-not-substantiated problem.  These arguments were repeated by one of the VATSIM Founders at the VATSIM Executive Committee meeting where the proposal was going to be decided on, and reason prevailed.

2. Boston Virtual ARTCC:  In July, VATUSA's ZBW teamed up and merged with the former Boston Virtual ATC organization to form the Boston Virtual ARTCC, a combined community for controllers and pilots to share the love of virtual controlling, flying, learning and all things aviation.  ZBW brought the VATSIM knowledge and tools, BVA brought a tight-knit community of 30+ controllers and 3,000+ pilots (much of it GA and regional commuter traffic), both sides brought excellence in training and execution, and the result was a community that was most certainly more valuable than the sum of its parts.  The new community now sports continued excellent service that's online significantly more than in the past, with a great mix of airline, commuter airline (especially Cape Air) and GA.

3. Data services:  Forum migration completed relatively painlessly.  Daniel has been a master at aligning forum permissions with staff roles.  The internal core of the existing website has been thoroughly scanned and tested for security holes and vulnerabilities, and several fixes implemented.  New division email schema implemented.  Work continues on a shiny new website, but the extent of the fragmented code/files and how much has been duct taped over the years has slowed that project down. 

4. Membership Data:  Did you know that VATUSA has seen a 7.5% increase in membership since the first of the year?  There are a number of things we can attribute this to, perhaps most notably vPilot, P3D and FSX:SE that have all helped to reinvigorate interest both in VATSIM as well as in our hobby.  Plus the aforementioned BVA merger.  But the number of active controllers and time online is still ever-so-slowly diminishing.  Our problem isn't recruiting -- we pull in an average of 18 new members a day into VATUSA -- it's retention.  This has been an age-old issue, but one that I'm not sure we're spending enough time addressing.  ARTCC staff -- take a look at your rosters from 6 months ago, 1 year ago, 2 years ago and 3 years ago.  Who's on those rosters that isn't around today (especially the S3s and above that were well trained and effective)?  What can you do in the next month to reach out to those folks, roll out the welcome mat, and ask them to come back, dust off any rust that may have accumulated, and get back on the scopes?

5. Events:  I'm so glad to have seen the number and quality of events in the last half of 2015 ramp up as well as they did.  And we got some good recognition on the VATSIM forums for that as well.  We pulled together and successfully executed 2 major Cross the Pond events, WorldFlight, Light Up America, FNOs, multi-ARTCC regional events, and lots of individual ARTCC events during 2015.  As most folks know, I hold training and events close to my heart as THE two most influential factors in an ARTCC's, VATUSA's and VATSIM's success.  Effective training and effective events bring effective execution, excellent pilot (and plenty on the other end of the spectrum, unfortunately :) ), and that combined with some good ARTCC leadership brings camaraderie that cannot be beat.  Keep it up -- events are excellent ways to not only showcase your talent, but also train and certify students.  One request on behalf of many of the west-coasters that can't get online until later -- let's have some later FNOs (e.g. 5-10pm or 6-10pm Pacific Time.

6. Policies:  At long last, updating and re-releasing the VATUSA General and VATUSA Transfer and Visiting Controller policies  made it's way from solidly at #18 on the to-do list to a reality.  No major changes, but a few tweaks to hopefully benefit ARTCC leadership and our members.

7. Find a Friend, Be a Buddy:    So I do wonder how many folks really reached out to someone who might enjoy VATSIM, either from a controlling or flying (or both) perspective, and gave them a personal invitation to join VATSIM along with the promise to help mentor them along the way and get started.  History shows that a personal invitation combined with constructive, friendly, helpful follow-up and/or mentoring greatly increases an organization's retention.  And we could really use that!  Who else do you know that would enjoy the VATSIM experience, either as a pilot, a controller, or both?  How many CFIs are on here that have former students that use a flight sim yet aren't active members of VATSIM and/or VATUSA?  Why not find a friend, former or current student, etc. and invite them to check out VATSIM, while offering to help them get set up, started on the road, and be their mentor/buddy along the way?

Most folks who know me know that I take this gig pretty seriously and pretty personally.  I have a love and passion for aviation, and a love and passion for VATSIM and VATUSA goes hand in hand with that.  When I feel like we've failed, especially when it comes to training, events, and retention/leadership, I typically react flash-hot and fast.  Sometimes without having or verifying all the facts first.  For those I've snapped at during the year, especially wrongly-so, I apologize, and will continue to try, every day, at being a better person and leader (and dad and husband and....).

So much for being quick!  ;D  I do hope everyones' holidays have been excellent so far, and my best wishes to everyone for a safe, healthy and outstanding 2016.
Don Desfosse
Division Director Emeritus, VATUSA

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #14 on: April 10, 2016, 01:11:37 pm »
At the last VATUSA Town Hall Meeting in January, I indicated a desire to hold these quarterly, targeting the next meeting in April.  Due to significant professional and personal obligations, I won't be able to host one in April, but will try for May.
Don Desfosse
Division Director Emeritus, VATUSA