• Greg Whiley

NZA Simulation’s Nelson Airport, New Zealand Review

Updated: Nov 22, 2021



Nestled on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island is the city of Nelson. Nelson is the oldest city in the South Island and second-oldest city in New Zealand. Established in 1841, Nelson’s population is now over 51,000. The city is surrounded by mountains on three sides with Tasman Bay on the other. The region is the gateway to the popular attractions of Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park, Lakes Rototi and Rotoroa in the Nelson National Park.


Nelson Airport (NZNS) is located 6 km (3.7 mi) south-west of central Nelson. It is the sixth-busiest airport in New Zealand by passenger numbers with 1.2 million passengers passing through per year. It is the seventh by aircraft movements having up to 500 domestic flights per week, approximately 37,000 flights per year. It is the busiest airport in the country outside of major international terminals. Nelson airport is also home to the Air New Zealand Maintenance facility.


Airlines operating in and out-off Nelson airport include Air New Zealand, Golden Bay Air, Originair, and Sounds Air. Between them they have a variety of regional destinations around the country, including major centres such as Wellington and Christchurch. The airport has restricted international status to allow smaller private jets and international flights, including turboprop aircraft, to fly into the region from overseas for general aviation, engineering and maintenance services.


In 2019, a NZ$32 million multi-stage capital works project including a new terminal was completed. The terminal will cater for growth projections to 2035, when 1.4 million passengers a year are predicted to pass through the facility. This visually stunning terminal building was designed to replicate the mountain skyline of Nelson’s Western Ranges. Passengers inside the terminal are afforded panoramic views of the region’s majesty thanks to floor to ceiling windows containing 133 square metres of glass.


Enter NZA Simulations

It is in this setting that in July 2021 NZA Simulations (NZA) released NZS – Nelson. NZA Simulations was formed to provide Next Level add-ons to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, (FS 2020) employing the platform’s software development kit (SDK). It comprises a small team of five developers and one livery developer spread across the globe. The team is mainly based in New Zealand and Australia with one member located in Germany and another in Portugal. The team had acknowledged they had initially been ‘all new’ to scenery development in the simulator and modding industry, and on a steep learning curve with a focus on learning new things.


Well, this hard-working little team are getting payoff on their investment of long hours on development work and digital communication – while holding down day jobs! More on that later . . .

It is acknowledged at this point that I do not have any NZA ProlineTM products installed on my computer; nor have I been gifted any of their products. I have not had the personal experience of the application of any NZA ProlineTM product. This review is based on a comparison of real-world photography and videography against imagery captured in NZA advertising.


Fidelity – A micro assessment

Online simulation games, flight simulators included, have rightfully always been big on the ‘in yur face’ experience. Not that long ago, product appraisal was based on the less amount of fuzziness depicting 3D terrain images like hills and city buildings – meshing. Then, how accurate the world was presented – rendering. Rendering, then, was a key visual assessment term. Like splitting the atom into protons, contemporary commentary on graphics in the flight sim world has gone to the micro level for assessment. It is now the fidelity, of rendering that forms judgements. Striving to achieve photo-realistic rendering at an unprecedented level of detail, and on a literally global scale sets the new benchmark today.


What is the fidelity of NZA Proline products?

But just what is fidelity as it applies in this context? The essential meaning of ‘fidelity’ has two fundamental attributes. One, is the quality of being faithful to a person, country, organisation etc. Being faithful to one’s life partner, being devoutly loyal to a religion or brand of hardware/software are examples. The other attribute is the degree to which something matches or copies something else, that is, to have exactness in details. The portrait artist’s insistence on holding a pose to capture an exact likeness; the degree to which an electronic device accurately reproduces its effects, such as sound or picture, are examples. Alex Battaglia, in his article, ‘How Does Flight Simulator Delivers Maximum Fidelity Visuals’ (2020), identifies the characteristics of fidelity of flight simulation scenery as follows:

  • Having an almost photo-realistic approach to rendering.

  • Being unprecedented in detail and level.

  • On a literally global scale.

  • From the macro to the micro level.

  • Designed to scale onto the PC components of the future.

  • Built off of the simulation engine of its predecessor but with extensive improvements and a brand-new rendering engine on top.

  • Delivers bespoke rendering solutions.

  • Built off of the simulation engine of its predecessor but with extensive improvements and a brand-new rendering engine on top (Asobo Studio and Microsoft Azure)

  • Leverages satellite imagery or fly-by image scans as the basis for height and terrain texture data.

  • Having an offline procedural generation AI that reads textures based on their own parameters and properly populates terrain with materials, roads, buildings, bushes, trees and more based on brush set assets the team has made.

  • Having the ability for artists to go in and embellish specific locations with even more detail with photogrammetrically captured materials and textures.

If w lok at these characteristics in terms of Faithfulness and Exactness, we get a breakdown of their qualities as shown in this table:

Faithfulness

Exactness

On a literally global scale

Having an almost photo-realistic approach to rendering

Designed to scale into the PC components of the future

From the macro to the micro level

Built off of the simulation engine of its predecessor but with extensive improvements and a brand-new rendering engine on top (Asobo Studio & Microsoft Azure)

Leverages satellite imagery or fly-by image scans as the basis for height and terrain texture data

Delivers bespoke rendering solutions

Delivers bespoke rendering solutions

Having an offline procedural generation AI that reads textures based on their own parameters and properly populates terrain with materials, roads, buildings, bushes, trees and more based on brush set assets the team has made

Having the ability for artists to go in and embellish specific locations with even more detail with photogrammetrically captured materials and textures


The advertised features of this scenery software, compatible with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 include:

  • 9000+ hand-placed objects.

  • 250+ custom assets.

  • 50+ unique custom buildings.

  • Fully 3D modelled interior of the terminal building and ATC control tower, including all shops, seating, ANZ Koru Lounge, check-in baggage handling areas.

  • Flyable livery for the Nelson Aviation College C172, both classic and G1000 glass cockpits.

  • Static Air New Zealand ATR-72 and Bombardier Dash 8 Q300 aircraft.

  • Static local helicopters, including BK-117 rescue helicopters and Helicopters Nelson AS350.

  • Air New Zealand maintenance and cargo facilities, fuel farms, GA hangers, Nelson Aero Club, Airport House and the fire station all created as in real life.

  • Other custom models and landmarks such as the Nelson Fun Park, Mitre 10 Mega, Boulder Bank lighthouse and Grampians Reserve radio tower are featured

  • New high resolution custom ground aerial imagery, covering around 20 km2 , including the airport, shipping port, Boulder Park Spit, and industrial and residential areas.

  • Custom animations include advertising and departure screens and animated baggage collection.

  • Fully featured airside and landside custom modelled scenery objects.

  • Accurate taxiway names and markings tested and compatible with default AI and ATC.

  • Airport area biome enhancements to recreate the environment to match the look and feel of real life, including Rabbit Island pine plantations, and correct tree heights within the urban areas.

  • Runway and apron areas with high resolution imagery and custom PBR texturing to give a more realistic look.

  • Accurate parking and gate positions matching real world charts.

  • Custom taxiway edge lights.

  • Terminal, car park, apron and ATC night lighting.

  • Compatible with the ORBX NZ mesh addon.

Using the fundamental attributes of faithfulness and exactness, then, how does NZA’s Nelson Airport rate in terms of the fidelity of its scenery? An obvious way to test it is to compare it with the real world. Following are screen shots of NZA’s advertised scenery, compared to actual photography and videography of Nelson airport and its surrounds. Let’s see how they compare.


But first, a note of acknowledgement. I pay to the utubers and vloggers. They are the guys who, through their passion for flight simulation keep in the loop, and us informed. These guys are the backbone of our hobby. They form a loose network of sorts of news and commentary. They are the ‘journo’s’ of the flight sim world. It is in this space where news and dialogue can take place. They, and we, may not always be in agreement. But generally it is civil and provides us with food for thought for informed decision-making.


I have drawn in good faith from a number of Utuber channels to capture images for comparative purposes They are referenced with images used.


Most graphic software companies of course have their own sites for product information and sales. NZA ProlineTM is of no exception. I refer to their sleek NZA Simulations – NZNS Nelson & Motueka – Trailer 4K YouTube video (Jun 30, 2021). It is primarily from here that I have drawn still captures of the video for comparative purposes. Often our information providers are provided access to the software, or purchase and install it themselves, for promotional and/or review purposes. This is where we are most informed of the fidelity of a product, where it is shown its likeness to the real world. Where we try before we buy.


The test

So let’s compare some captured images of NZAS Nelson with those of the real world.




















A comparison of these sample images provides some indication of the fidelity of NZA ProlineTM products in the rendering of the real world. Attention to detail is exemplary. The modelling of the terminal interior is exact in detail. The complex geometric design of the new terminal building with its chevron shaped roofing canopy with floor-to-ceiling glass is recreated exceptionally well. The interior is a masterpiece of 3D modelling. The complex timber internal structure, with its many complicated angles and interlocking beams must have taken many long hours of development to achieve this level of exactness. Everything, from dynamic arrival and departure boards on the walls, animated passengers using the check-in machines at the departure hall, and moving suitcases on the baggage carousel, have been featured.


The control tower has been afforded the same faithfulness. The controller’s desk is well appointed with the computer screens, flight progress strips and radio stacks you would expect to find in any tower. Again, all rendered with a high degree of precision.


The comparisons also show the accurate placement and detailing of terrain of roads, buildings, bushes, trees etc. The physically based rendering (PRB) of shading and lighting provides an accurate representation of how light interacts with surfaces on buildings, runways and aprons and hangar flooring to stunning effect. This texturing provides a sense of feeling and actualisation that uplifts the presence of other visual elements like patterns, colours, illustrations, content, and more. Hence, a high level of faithfulness to the real environment is achieved.


The NZA Simulations team have accepted the challenges the FS 2020 software development kit (SDK) presents. They are producing freeware and payware scenery in their NZA ProlineTM range of outstanding quality, comparable to any in the current market and at a reasonable price. NZNS – Nelson is a fine example of extremely high fidelity to the craft of scenery development.