Review: SAM GroundService for X-Plane

Ground handling is something that many flight simmers can live without. Yes, you can argue that you need a pushback truck if you’re flying jetliners from gates, but that is not the sort of ground handling I was referring to.

I was more pointing toward the other personnel on the ground, like catering, fuel and payload management, or waste management. All of that is something every flight simmer can fly hundreds, perhaps also thousands of hours without.

But, what if we have the option to bring in the ground handling vehicles and personnel to our simulator? Would it make that big of a difference, and for what cost? Well, Stairport Sceneries have earlier this year released their own ground handling plugin for X-Plane 11, GroundService.

They have been keen to provide us with a free press copy of the addon, and I will now be sharing my opinion on the product itself.

Introduction to GroundService

First of all, I feel everyone should know why this release was a big thing to the X-Plane community and why did I instantly jumped on the opportunity to get my hands on this new plugin.

GroundService for X-Plane 11 from Stairport Sceneries is the second-ever payware ground handling plugin for X-Plane 11 and as in many other situations, it is never a good thing when there is only one company in a whole industry segment without competition.

This has proven to be true as JarDesign’s Ground Handling Deluxe, the only available payware ground handling plugin at the time, didn’t receive very positive feedback from the community in the long run.

When Stairport Sceneries announced they would be working on their own ground handling plugin for X-Plane 11, I was excited that there would be an alternative to JarDesign’s GHD. Especially when the news came from an established studio that I knew wouldn’t just cancel the project after a few weeks.

As time passed, we got a better idea of what it will bring. For example, addon compatibility from default, automatic route generation logic, or that it will not only be a visual enhancement addon but will also bring a number of weight-influencing operations. Not to mention when they cited Simbrief integration.

As someone who really appreciates having ground handling around when on the ground, I have to stress about how excited I was when I heard we will no longer have to bear with JarDesign’s GHD. Of course, even that is a likeable addon, however, what has been promised by Stairport Sceneries was on the next level.

Is GroundService worth it?

Moving from the background to the actual review:

Ground handling vehicles

I have to admit I was very satisfied at first. The models seemed to be very nice and with all the necessary details. After a closer look, I noticed something very interesting: some models were nicer than others. For example, the baggage truck with carts was much more detailed, both model and texture-wise, than the crew shuttle.

The crew shuttle is very poorly done. The textures are visibly low-res even from a distance, you can see that the model is low-poly, and textures do not seem to properly connect/divide sections of the vehicles. On the other hand, the baggage truck is done to a terrific detail and has textures with even small wear and tear details.

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Apart from the crew shuttle, all vehicles have nice textures with wear and tear details. It is true that some have lower resolution textures, but you can live with that unless you really go closer to the models in free camera mode.

The modelling is done to a high level of detail. Don’t expect “study-level” models featured on all vehicles with every little knob and handle modelled, but for a ground handling plugin, it is the perfect compromise between the visuals and performance.

What is also worth pointing out is that the vehicles are region-based. You will see different vehicles come up to your aircraft in North American and Europe, for example. There is unfortunately no support for custom liveries.

UI

The interface is modern, has a dark mode option for those who don’t want to flash themself while flying at night and it did not take me long until I got used to it and knew where all the features are hidden.

The issue is that the stuff you can do through the user interface is very limited and it takes a long time to set everything up in the interface. I do not think users should have to go through three pages to get ground handling setup before departure.

To better understand this, it is important to explain that GroundService for X-Plane 11 is not like other ground handling plugins. It is not only displaying static models of the ground handling vehicles but rather cooperating with the aircraft, generating routes, and realistically timing events founded on weights and services.

Consequently, it does not allow you to oversee each individual ground handling vehicle. You have to set up all the variables through the UI, and depending on what you input, the plugin will automatically dispatch needed ground handling vehicles.

This could be, perhaps, in the future improved by adding an option for manual vehicle control. I agree that having realistic timings is a great feature, however, not everyone wants to wait over 30 minutes on a rotation. Simply put, this prevents casual simmers to enjoy the plugin in full.

Functions

Weight & Balance Control

Stairport Sceneries’ GroundService for X-Plane 11 works in a way that the user inputs all the values and settings, and based on that, the plugin everything handles automatically.

You have the choice to input the weight of passengers, select if you want the aircraft to be cleaned and want catering, the weight of baggage, the weight of fuel, and whether you want the crew to arrive in a shuttle or not.

Based on your input, the plugin will give you an estimated load time. Once you start the load, ground handling operations will begin in a realistic order. For example, passengers will not board until the cleaning is done.

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Each action takes a certain time to complete and affects the weight&balance of the aircraft in real-time. This is a very nice feature that looks very well and we have not seen heretofore, and as long as you aim for realistic ground operations, this for sure is a big pro of the plugin.

If you’re in rush and don’t want to wait for all operations to be done, you have no other option but to set the values lower in the plugin. Then continue to set the actual payload through the aircraft configuration in the simulator settings. Alternatively, you can also use the “Instant load” function, but that will also make the ground handling vehicles leave.

Animations

All vehicles have their animations. Not only those that make them drive up to the aircraft but various operational. This certainly does add to the overall immersion that comes with the plugin and I could not imagine a ground handling plugin without animations.

Stairport Sceneries took this to a new level by animating ground handling personnel. A preview of that can be watched in the video below. The animations are not perfect but for sure a big leap for the X-Plane 11 community. Overall a very good job from the developers.

Simbrief & BetterPushback Integration

SAM GroundService does offer a Simbrief and BetterPushback integration. I used it pretty much on every flight I did. You can import all the weights and airport data from Simbrief. Thus not having to input all the numbers manually.

Once you are done with the payload, you don’t have to go through the extensive list of plugins to find BetterPushback. Instead, you can just click a button in the GroundService interface and go on from there.

Cruise Entertainment

The developers added a minigame to the plugin. While I never really made use of it, I imagine there are people who will. It is a snake you can play with during the cruise. A nice but unnecessary detail.

Addon compatibility

What is a big advantage of SAM GroundService is the addon compatibility. By default, it supports a large number of popular addons many simmers use. There is no need to download any extra configuration files. You just launch the simulator and if the addon is supported, you are ready to go.

You can always view the aircraft compatibility list at the Stairport Sceneries’ helpdesk website. What is a bit concerning is that the addon has been published almost four months ago and there has not been a single new aircraft config added. For sure not a great message to send out.

On the other hand, it must be said that the plugin really works well with the supported aircraft and with the other ones, it can work partially but it is not guaranteed. For what is supported, you can expect very precise docking and corresponding animations.

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Route generation

The addon promises smart route generation similar to the one used in Tesla vehicles (LIDAR). I have tested this specifically on various airfields, from smaller to those international ones. I did not encounter a situation where two vehicles would go through each other or have any kind of conflict that would make them crash.

What I did come across though is that the vehicles are trying to avoid buildings and objects in sceneries. They do go through them, however, bug during it. As if they were trying to find a route around but did not find any.

The team is on a good way with this, however, this feature is certainly not 100% functional and to be promoted in the way it currently is.

Installation

In regards to the installation process, I will have to say the same as I did in my first impressions article on the addon:

The installation was very straightforward, in our case through the Aerosoft One launcher. Otherwise, if purchasing elsewhere, it might differ a bit. Nonetheless, once I had it installed, it was only left to activate it through the user interface.

As with other addons of this kind from Stairport Sceneries, the activation, as well as general management, is done through the SAM plugin interface accessible from the Plugins tab in the menu.

I don’t really find that ideal as it is rather hidden in the interface, however, I understand what made the team do it this way. On the other hand, this makes it much easier to keep the addon updated.

Conclusion

In summary, the addon for sure is revolutionary in many aspects. It is adding a notable amount of immersion and realism to the simulator. It offers nice ground handling vehicles, animations, and a modern user interface with dark mode.

Stairport Sceneries’ GroundHandling really makes a difference from the previously available ground handling plugins from other development groups. It is also the logic that vehicles don’t come up randomly but in proper order.

The developers have clearly gone the way to having everything automated, which for many might not be ideal. I might appreciate seeing a “manual mode” of some sort in the future, especially when asking for such money.

When it comes to the price, SAM GroundService costs 29€ with VAT excluded. To be fair, for that price I would expect a bit more. It is not a price tag you would be used to paying for a ground handling plugin, whatever the quality and features are. However, if you want a proper ground handling plugin that will serve your needs, this is certainly going to be your go-to.

If you want to learn more about the addon, you can read the previous article on the release here, or our interview with Marten from Stairport Sceneries by clicking here. We have also shared our first impressions of the plugin which can be read here.

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