Rick Noble heads up aviation software and information services company, ATP. Successful additions to their company include the former Casebank products ChronicX and Spotlight. And last year, during the pandemic shutdown, ATP acquired Flightdocs. The company is cautiously eyeing future possible acquisitions that would expand their footprint. We caught up with Noble to see how things are going and where the company is headed in the future.
Q: Give our readers an update about how the integration of Flightdocs has gone for ATP. What have you learned from putting these two companies together and how things are going?
A: A year later – obviously we wouldn’t have acquired them if we weren’t very impressed with Flightdocs and we continue to be just delighted with the product, with the growth that we’re seeing there. We didn’t really see a slowdown much at all in business and general aviation and that arc between Flightdocs and our ATP Aviation Hub business, the two of them combined, are about three quarters of our revenue. Both of them primarily serve business and general aviation. So, no real slow down there.
Q: You said a year ago that integrating the two products would be a key goal. How did that go?
A: One of the first things we did was to create a product integration whereby Flightdoc’s customers can zip right over and access what they might need in the Aviation Hub [ATP’s technical, regulatory, and compliance publications service]. The first time they do it, they have to sign in, but thereafter it’s recognized. It’s very seamless. We have an integration going the other way, too. It’ll become a lot more popular starting next year when we come out with a new version of Flightdocs, which is designed for MRO.
Q: So the focus will be on adding a Flightdocs product that is more tailored to MROs?
A: Most of our Flightdocs customers now are owner-operators, corporate flight departments and charter services. But the common element is these are people that are owning, operating and maintaining their own aircraft. MROs typically maintain other people’s aircraft. So they want to do some things that are a little different from owner/operators. They might want to generate quotes. They want to track different people’s fleets separately. So we’re building all of those capabilities into a new version of Flightdocs and that’ll be available starting next year. When that’s available the integration going the other way — from the hub into Flightdocs will make much more sense for our MRO customers.
Q: When is the launch for the new version?
A: It’s going to be released over time as features and functionality become available. Toward the end of next year everything will be available.
Q: Tell us more about the new functionalities?
A: We have a very good operations module now. You can schedule your planes and know when they’re being used, or in for service, etc. There are additional features and functionality we want to have so that we can compete with others in that space. So again, by late next year, we’re going to have that all done, and it’ll be completely integrated with Flightdocs.
Q: Have you made improvements to the maintenance side as well?
A: We’re doing new releases on the maintenance product all the time to add features and functionality. A lot of it is based on customer input. Somebody calls in with an idea and it looks like it would appeal to a broad range of users — we put it on our roadmap.
Q: The products that came from the Casebank acquisition have such great potential. Give us an update on Spotlight, the Guided troubleshooting and fault isolation product.
A: Our spotlight product, which is a diagnostic tool, is being used by Lockheed Martin on the F 35, by Gulf stream on some of their jets and by Pratt Whitney on some of their engines. We also have customers outside of aviation. Aston Martin uses spotlight to diagnose cars. Caterpillar is beginning to use it on some of their large engines, which are used in earth-moving equipment and it is being used in yachts. We do have the capability to develop an underlying database even without outside input. We did it for the 737. There are some aircraft that are heavily represented among the Flightdocs customer base, King Airs, for example. One of the things that we’re looking at down the road is, could we develop diagnostic databases for those aircraft?
Q: Not for one particular customer, but for anybody interested?
A: Yes, and then just make it available as part of the Flightdocs offering. The way spotlight works is if you run into a problem that you’re having trouble figuring out, you enter in some symptoms, and then Spotlight, based on that underlying database, which grows over time with use, comes back and says, “There’s a 70% chance it is this and a 20% chance it’s that.” It really helps that maintainer more quickly, zero in on what the issue is, so they can spend time fixing and not diagnosing.
Q: You’ve recently got an influx of investment from a growth investment company. Can you talk about that, what that means to ATP and how you’re going to use that?
A: Yes – Accel-KKR is a well-known private equity firm. They’ve done currently about 60 portfolio companies. They specialize in software companies, which of course we are. Looking to the future, we would like to make more acquisitions down the road, especially where they make sense to either expand our offerings to existing customers, or fill out a hole in our product line. This investment from Excel KKR is just means that we’re ready to go. Now. We don’t have to worry about trying to find funding, if we find an acquisition that we like. Existing investor ParkerGale Capital has also been involved with the company for a much longer time, but Excel KKR since June of last year. At the end of the day, we had a minority owner and a majority owner and they’ve just kind of switched places.
Q: What kinds of companies do you feel would be potential targets for acquisition?
A: There are clearly lots of other things that go on in commercial aviation that could sit alongside or enhance what we’re doing today. There are companies that serve the small and medium airline business with maintenance products. They’ve may have other things that we don’t currently have — but they may also have other features and functionality that we just aren’t interested in. So, we’ve looked at either developing those ourselves or maybe acquiring a company or two that would help us expand our footprint in commercial aviation.
Q: What about the military side – you already work with the F35 fleet with your Spotlight product?
A: We see other opportunities there. We’ve run a proof of concept, using ChronicX with the U.S. Navy on their F 18 fleet, which was very successful. So we see some opportunities to expand in military aviation as well.
Q: Give us an update on ChronicX, your recurring defect detection and trend analysis product.
A: For anybody who operates a fleet, ChronicX can be a very powerful tool. Using the airline example, an average commercial aircraft generates about 140 maintenance reports per month. These could be generated by anybody — pilot, co-pilot, flight crew, maintenance personnel, etc. So 140 reports a month and if you’ve got a 250 aircraft airline, that’s 35,000 reports. It’s a lot to go through manually. Some airlines, historically, have tried to do that, but with ChronicX, it would just rip through that amount of data in no time. If you think of other heavily operated fleets, military being an example, where seeing a problem is recurring and then getting on that quickly is going to save you and help you avoid cancellations, delays and downtime. One very large airline had 12 mechanics sitting in a room every day, going through these reports manually. That’s not a good use of skilled mechanics. They, they should be out in the hangar doing what they’ve been trained to do. ChronicX can help avoid those issues.
ATP will be attending NBAA BACE this fall and many shows in 2022 including Aero Friedrichshafen, AirVenture, CGI Miami and others if you would like to catch up with them in person.