Flight operations NAVBLUE: Building a digital legacy

NAVBLUE is a new name in the flight operations and air traffic management market, but its collective history spans more than 50 years. Airbus’ acquisition of Navtech builds upon both companies’ rich heritage and digital innovations to create a reputable service provider that is set to outpace the competition.

85%

of airline cockpits worldwide are now equipped with an electronic flight bag (EFB).

In an industry where weight equals fuel burn, digital is the way forward for operations. In fact, 85% of airline cockpits worldwide are now equipped with an electronic flight bag (EFB): a tablet replacing what used to be pounds of paperwork – documentation, checklists, charts, performance programmes – with easily downloadable files. And there’s a lot of technology behind ‘easily’.

This spring, Airbus’ flight operations and air traffic management product portfolio, including its EFB suite; breakthrough runway overrun protection system (ROPS) safety solutions; and Airbus ProSky navigation services, merged with Navtech, a leading global provider of flight ops solutions whose flight planning and e-chart capabilities – along with performance-based navigation solutions, aeronautical charts, aircraft performance software and more – compliment Airbus’ offerings. The strategic acquisition and subsequent formation of NAVBLUE positions Airbus as a complete flight operations and air traffic management solution provider.

A winning combo

Mike Hulley

Flight operations and air traffic management are key markets, ones that have too long been dominated by an “800-pound gorilla,” as NAVBLUE CEO Mike Hulley calls it. “Boeing-Jeppesen has 80% of the market share,” he says.

“They’re roughly analogous to IBM in the 1960s, who had no competition.” The market is primed for disruption, which is what NAVBLUE is perfectly poised to do. “We have the best of both worlds,” says Paul-Franck Bijou, head of sales and communication for NAVBLUE. “The expertise, resources and brand recognition of Airbus, and the entrepreneurial spirit of Navtech.”

Much like a certain tech giant who unseated IBM, Navtech was started in a garage. In the mid-1980s, Canadian pilot Ray English designed a new, computerised flight-planning system. His wife Dorothy, a self-taught software engineer, began writing code for it at their kitchen table. “We started small and had to build up. We got where we are by embracing technology,” says Shawn Mechelke, NAVBLUE SVP of products, who worked with Navtech for over 20 years.

Paul-Franck Bijou

Navtech ultimately evolved to a web-based user interface and fully supported Linux-based computation engine using the latest in modern software architecture. They acquired the European Aeronautical Group to integrate one of three aerodata and aeronautical charting companies in the world.

They adopted agile development principles early on and sought constant feedback, both from employees who had worked in the industry and from an advisory board of customer thought-leaders that helped guide best-of-breed product development.

This adaptive approach to success won them 400 airline customers like Cathay Pacific, Delta, Air Canada, Ryanair and military customers like the UK Ministry of Defence. Their continual willingness and ability to
modernise kept them a nimble player, capturing 10% of the market share – no small feat for a 230-person company.

Exclusive resources

Shawn Mechelke

What Navtech brings in terms of software and operational solutions, Airbus brings in reputation, innovation and access. “NAVBLUE takes our unique setup to the market, which includes a partnership with Airbus Defence and Space Intelligence,” explains Fabrice Villaumé, NAVBLUE chief strategy & marketing officer. “The accessibility of exclusive resources – Pléiades satellite images, for example – enables more accurate operations and helps us provide the best and highest quality information.”

Growth ahead

Fabrice Villaumé

Today, NAVBLUE aims to balance the market, becoming a viable alternative to Jeppesen while understanding that retaining their agility is crucial to their success. “At NAVBLUE, we’ll work as a small company in that we’ll keep our hunger,” says Hulley, “but we’re backed by an industry leader who can increase our bandwidth and capabilities.” This expansion includes the capacity to incubate and build ideas out, incentivising employees to think outside the box.

“The value you get from having all of this in one company is that all of your solutions are integrated,” adds Mechelke. “This helps our users do their jobs effectively and increases profitability. We’re successful together, that’s what we want.”

 

Jess Holl