Welcome to Aireon’s new blog series, “The Weekly Five” in which we will ask five quick questions to our team members to educate and share how Aireon has been continuing 24/7 operations during the pandemic and what we’re learning along the way. For the second post, we’ve sat down with one of Aireon’s Senior Implementation Engineers, Chris Holverson.
1. What role and function does the Implementation Engineering Team serve for Aireon as a whole?
We play a vital role in getting our Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) customers equipped, prepared, and ready for operational use of the Aireon’s space-based ADS-B service. We work closely with the sales team as a new customer comes on-board to establish that initial relationship and to better understand the needs of the customer so that we can be sure to address their concerns and meet their expectations. We then work closely with the Aireon operations team, to ensure they have all of the information needed to provide quality customer service and also have the tools that they need to contact Aireon support, if needed.
I feel that Implementation is one of the most rewarding positions at Aireon because we get to work alongside customers on a journey to establish a brand-new layer of surveillance that they’ve never had before. Getting to watch their eyes light up when they see aircraft show up for the first time in areas that they’ve never had coverage, it’s a great feeling. Acceptance test events are almost bittersweet in a way, as that means our journey with that customer has come to successful conclusion and we hand them off to communicate with operations after that milestone.
2. Being such a customer-facing department, how has the inability to travel affected ongoing projects?
Fortunately, our own inability to travel hasn’t really affected our current projects that much. All of the “heavy lifting” for our current customers was accomplished before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so we are able to maintain most of our schedules, primarily thanks to the relationships we’ve built with those customers over the past several months. Even with everyone working from home, customers are all still very much engaged and moving forward.
We do have a few unique situations, depending on the customer and the part of the world they are in. Some customers might only be allowed to travel within their own country on certain days of the week, while others haven’t been allowed in their offices at all. So, it has affected some tasks, but we are working through those types of issues with confidence and collaboration.
The real challenge will be in on-boarding our newest customers, while all the travel restrictions are still in place. Trying to develop a trusting relationship over video conferencing and email will be difficult at first. It’s an adjustment that the entire world is going through on many fronts so I’m confident we’ll get through this hurdle.
3. What customers are you currently preparing for going live with space-based ADS-B? Can you tell me a bit about them and what makes them unique?
Isavia (Iceland’s ANSP) is the next customer that is about to go live with Aireon’s service. They are a great group to work with and have a really wonderful facility in Reykjavik. Isavia is a part of the North Atlantic (NAT) Region and they are unique in that the bulk of the airspace they control may fall under other countries. They have an agreement with NAVIAIR (Denmark’s ANSP) to control the Greenland Nuuk Flight Information Region (FIR) within a certain altitude range and they also control the Faroe Islands, just north of the UK. Their airspace begins at the northern border of the Gander, Shanwick and Scottish FIRs, and goes up to the North Pole along the Prime Meridian, which is about 2.1 million square miles. Needless to say, they have a close working relationship with NAV CANADA, NATS, & EUROCONTROL, who are also part of the Aireon customer family.
Isavia had initially planned to go operational in March/April of this year, but some training for their air traffic controllers is still in progress, which has been put on hold due to the pandemic.
4. What innovative ways has the implementation team been working with the customers remotely and continuing testing throughout the pandemic?
Well, I’m not sure if it’s innovative, but we are now utilizing more of the existing video features within certain conferencing tools. It’s kind of funny, even when having teleconferences with small groups, the video capabilities of conferencing tools were rarely used, but now that everyone attends meetings individually from their homes, it seems odd if you’re not using your webcam in a meeting. The more frequent use of video conferencing has really helped us maintain the relationships we’ve built and even strengthens them in many ways since now we’re seeing into our customers homes and they into ours. It gives a more personal feel to our meetings now, and spawns additional topics of conversation that we most likely would never discuss through our normal working relationship.
We’ve also found that our European and African customers mostly communicate through a cell phone application called WhatsApp. It’s a secure way to text, talk and video chat. The Implementation team has loaded the app and assigned our work numbers to it so that our customers can more easily contact us.
5. Is there anything else you would like to share about anything current and ongoing within the Implementation Team?
It was great when Aireon went live with the Aireon service in April 2019. That’s when the team was able to complete the system acceptance tests with our first ANSP customers . We had been preparing ourselves for those customers acceptance tests and operational status, while the network was being deployed and launched on Iridium’s satellite constellation. To be able to bring those first customers on-line was very exciting. I think the team successfully performed nine acceptance tests between June and December of 2019. It was a great start to Aireon’s initial operations and a great finish to 2019.