September 03, 2012
Credit: AEROTECH RESEARCH/WSI
Understanding the customer and finding a partner have proved key to transitioning from research company to product developer for AeroTech Research, a U.S. specialist in atmospheric hazard detection and avoidance.
“We developed a couple of technologies within NASA research projects on how to improve radar detection of turbulence and how to interpret turbulence to automatically make reports to the ground,” says Paul Robinson, president of AeroTech, a 10-person company founded in 1994 and based in Newport News, Va.
Turbulence encounters cost airlines hundreds of millions of dollars annually in aircraft inspections and repairs, crew and passenger injuries, and delays and fuel costs. AeroTech's major product is the Turbulence Auto-Pirep System (TAPS), onboard software that automatically detects turbulence encounters and downlinks reports to the ground for dissemination to aircraft operators and air traffic control.
“We started to work with some airlines and got more focused on understanding who needs the information and what to do with it,” Robinson says. “We got dragged into the business side by airline management saying, 'This will help us save some money.' We started to build the business case for our product. This was a difficult step for us, away from basic research and into commercial product implementation.”
AeroTech was helped along the way by developing close relationships with a major customer and a larger industry player, weather-information provider WSI. “We started discussions with American Airlines and signed a licensing agreement with WSI. That was a good step for us,” Robinson says.
“We have found airlines like the product, but they want an integrated solution,” he says. “Our stuff needs to be integrated. WSI integrated TAPS with its Fusion weather decision-making tools. American Airlines is a customer; they pay for a service and get it with the same quality as other WSI products.”