Microsoft Flight Simulator – Catalina Airport Review (Orbx)


Orbx recently launched Catalina Airport (KAVX) for Microsoft Flight Simulator, and it’s certainly an interesting destination for those who like to fly over the United States.

Located in the central heights of Santa Catalina Island off the California coast, KAVX is often nicknamed “the airport in the sky” due to the fact that it is built on top of one of the highest hills of the island.

That means it’s one of the most scenic places you can operate in and it’s quite small, so you can forget about flying most big planes here (at least until someone frees up a DC-3). It’s the realm of Cessnas and Pipers, and if you like light general aviation, you’ll feel right at home at Catalina Airport.

Catalina Airport can be found on Orbx Direct for $17.59, which means that thanks to the Steam-like Orbx Central client, installing and updating it is a breeze. Personally, I find it even better than the official market, which can be a little clunky at times, especially since Orbx Central makes it easy to install scenes on a secondary drive.

If you want to see what the airport looks like in detail, the first video above features an approach and landing on runway 22, while the one below provides a full walkthrough of the entire area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, aside airstrip, landside and the rest of the island.

As a small general aviation airport, Catalina has no SIDs or STARs, so there’s not much to worry about in terms of procedures. The local VOR (which is nicely modeled on a nearby hill) is the only approach aid and is basically just a solution to get you started, as the final approach is purely visual.

Runway 22 has a relatively rare variant of the VASI system called PVASI (Pulsating Visual Approach Slope Indicator). Runway 04 has no aids, which is not surprising since it is not the preferred landing direction. The only slight flaw is that the PVASI should only have one light and here it has two, but you will only notice the difference when you get very close. Functionally, Orbx has done a good job of replicating this unusual approach aid.

It’s good because you’ll need all the help you can get to get that landing gear down on Runway 22. One of the coolest things about this landscape isn’t that it’s really visually scenic, but the challenge it offers.

The runway thresholds are right at the edge of steep 150ft cliffs and you should be prepared for downdrafts on short final. On top of that, it’s extremely easy to misjudge the downhill slope due to the steeply sloping surface, which causes you to land while climbing.

The track is actually “bumpy”, which means that after climbing for about two-thirds of its length, it drops back down to the 04 threshold. This can cause all sorts of errors in judgment both when landing and taking off, plus making traffic on the other end virtually invisible if you’re leaving.

Add to that wildly changeable weather and clouds that often fall at airport elevation, and you have an extremely fun, extremely challenging, and extremely beautiful place to add to the simulator. If you need some guidance, the Air Safety Institute has a great video on the subject.

Watching the video, you’ll probably notice the only major flaw in the decor. The track has recently been repaved with concrete replacing the old (and more dangerous) asphalt surface. Unfortunately, this change was not included by the developers. Luckily, now that we’ve addressed this, everything is going well until the end.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Catalina Airport Review

Side runway, taxiway and apron details are perfect (even the runway would be perfect if it wasn’t outdated, as it’s a decent reproduction of the real one until a few years ago years) and the orthophoto used as the basis for the airport is very detailed.

Orbx has done a great job with the vegetation, adding just the right amount of 3D grass and including new custom palm trees and cacti that look attractive and fit in well with the simulator’s default trees.

Moving on to the terminal and hangars, the level of detail is truly incredible, with top-notch modeling and texturing that does justice to Catalina’s unique architecture. You will find the iconic map of the island and the numerous information posters that inform tourists about the beauty and nature of the island.

One of the best parts of the airport is that this kind of attention to detail extends far beyond the airport itself. Orbx has also added many detailed custom buildings and landmarks in other locations, mostly concentrated around the nearby town of Avalon, including the casino, piers, and even a submarine.

They even set up the Pebbly Beach seaplane base which is great if you want to get to Santa Catalina by seaplane or even helicopter. Keep in mind that if you’re using a seaplane, you may need to temporarily disable crash damage, as I was unable to safely roll from the stand to the water on the icon, but this is probably a limitation of Microsoft Flight Simulator itself.

The landscape’s attention to detail shines in many areas, including signage, antennas (which are so often overlooked in this type of setting), and vehicles.

One of the things I love is the effort that has been made to place static people around the airport. Instead of just arranging them randomly, the developers have created small scenes which go a long way in making the place lively and realistic. Even the choice of clothes and hairstyles for the models seems appropriate.

Another fascinating detail is the static DC-3 Dakota owned by cargo airline Catalina Flying Boats. It was one of the last regular DC-3 operations in existence, carrying mail between Long Beach and Santa Catalina. The only minor issue is that the venerable Dakotas were phased out in 2017 and replaced by Cessna Caravans. That being said, it’s a concession to realism that I’m prepared to make. Your mileage may vary on this.

The night lighting is well done and the airport responds well to weather conditions, including rain and even snow, despite the fact that freezing weather is rather rare in Santa Catalina.

In terms of performance, Airport is well optimized, dropping only a few frames per second (4-5) on my PC (RTX 3070, Ryzen 9 3900x, 32GB RAM) at 1440p resolution and settings of Ultra detail compared to the default scenery, despite adding a ton of detail. You can see the difference above.

All in all, Catalina Airport by Orbx is a very good add-on. If it weren’t for the outdated track, it would be very close to perfect. Hopefully the developers will update it with the current concrete surface down the line.

Many of the Microsoft Flight Simulator sets are visually appealing while still feeling a bit chilly, but this airport feels like it has heart and soul, thanks in large part to the effort to make it feel actually lived in.

It’s an airport that offers plenty to explore and discover despite its small size inside and outside its borders, and looks like a lovingly designed diorama that’s easy to recommend.

Review block

Catalina Airport for Microsoft Flight Simulator Critic Review

Reviewer: Giuseppe Nelva | Award: editors Choice | Copy provided by the publisher.


  • Beautiful and stimulating location.
  • Properly modeled track slopes and bumps.
  • Great attention to detail.
  • Beautiful modeling and texturing.
  • The placement of appropriate human models and vehicles makes the landscape look like a nice diorama.

The inconvenients

  • The runway surface is outdated.

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