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1090 Global

The Weekly Five: Interview with Don Thoma, CEO


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 first post, we’ve sat down with Aireon’s CEO, Don Thoma.

  1. How is Aireon continuing operations and service amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

I don’t think we missed a beat.  The Aireon team has been diligently working remotely from their homes since mid-March. It’s business as usual, just a bit further apart. Aireon’s 24/7/365 network operations center remains in operation and monitored by our service desk technician team. We’re taking extreme precautions by sanitizing after every shift, adjusting shift schedules and are physically distancing each technician.

Our customers rely on us to be a 24/7/365 mission critical, safety service and it is great to see that the team has stepped up to show that we are a reliable partner and remain unaffected by any sort of disruption from the pandemic.

As far as our employees go, we’re doing our best to be as communicative as possible and stay in touch virtually. Our workdays certainly are filled with more meetings than the norm, but we’re adjusting.  The team hosts virtual happy hours and has a weekly Friday lunch on different topics.  It’s been fun to share photos and videos of everyone’s work-from-home environments, whether that is surrounded by children or pets or on a sunny balcony.

  1. How are Aireon’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) partners and customers being affected by the travel restrictions and decreased air traffic? Is Aireon’s data doing anything to help?

It’s been quite interesting to look at and study the air traffic data we are currently seeing. This pandemic certainly caught the world off-guard and has especially thrown the aviation industry a curveball.

Through partnering with CANSO, Aireon is analyzing the data we are seeing as a result of the pandemic, comparing it from previous years and working towards solutions to make improvements for the future.  Despite the decline, air traffic control remains essential. If planes are in the sky, we need air traffic controllers to tell them where to go and safely separate them.

The industry is likely going to experience a drastic increase in traffic once travel bans are lifted, so preparing to safely monitor and adjust to the traffic fluctuation is important for ANSPs – if there’s one thing that needs to be absolutely certain, it’s that the data air traffic controllers are using to separate aircraft is reliable and accurate, which is where Aireon comes into play. That’s why we are going above and beyond to keep our staff healthy and keep the system up and running to provide uninterrupted service to our customers.

We are continuing to work with our customers that are not yet live and were in the midst of testing and implementing Aireon’s data into their air traffic control centers when the virus began to spread globally. It is interesting to see what sort of complexities the team and our customers are facing in this environment to get simple checklist tasks completed. However, our customers and the Aireon team are collaborating and tackling these challenges head on. For instance, our implementation engineers are virtually meeting with partner 3Di and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to plan for the Initial System Acceptance Test ( ISAT) once facilities are open again. We’ll be ready once the bans are lifted and we can safety work together in person.

  1. What do you think this pandemic means for the future of air traffic control?

Air traffic control is an essential service.  It does not matter if there is one plane in the sky or one thousand, one-passenger on a plane or 200, ANSPs are required to have trained controllers on duty.  This pandemic has taught the world that we are not invincible. COVID-19 has caused wide disruption to the industry touching everything from air traffic controller rostering, training, equipment maintenance, air traffic counts and revenues.  Everyone in the industry is adjusting to this crisis and I must say, I see everyone responding positively to this challenge.

One thing we know about aviation is that everyone is trained to deal with emergencies.  I think it has prepared the industry to learn from this event, adjust accordingly and rebound stronger.  I am looking forward to the day when we can safely fly again. I’m optimistic that we will come out of this experience having learned a lot through our powerful data sources and having improved the aviation industry and sparked new innovation for the future of flying.

  1. Since data drives so much in this industry, is Aireon building out any products for the future to meet new demands and needs for aviation stakeholders?

Absolutely. Before the pandemic hit, Aireon was already beginning to build out commercial data products. Now more than ever, we’re realizing how powerful data is for creating useful tools to better efficiency for aviation stakeholders beyond just air traffic control. In fact, some companies are already beginning to integrate Aireon’s data into their tool.  For example, Metron Aviation, a division of Airbus,  is starting to integrate space-based ADS-B into their air traffic flow management product, Metron Harmony and Searidge is integrating Aireon data into their remote air traffic control tower products.

We’re exploring data capabilities to allow customers to query space-based ADS-B data, stream the data in standard formats compatible with existing applications, and the capability to create new data sets by enhancing our data with third party data sources such as flight plans, schedules, airports, etc.

Aireon is still working diligently on these products with the help of industry partners and our customers. We look forward to announcing these services later this year!

  1. Do you have any final updates/thoughts you would like to share?

I would just like to say that I am humbled how everyone is responding to this crisis.   The Aireon team has embraced the challenge and gone the extra step to make sure our customers are supported, and our team members and families are safe.  Our customers, who are dealing with their own crises, have been supportive, forward leaning and collaborative in working with the airlines and supply chains to make sure the integrity and fidelity of the air transportation network is maintained and that we are ready for the recovery.  People like to travel, many love to fly.  That makes me confident that the aviation industry will weather this crisis, maybe a little battered, but certainly stronger than ever.