As a new up-and-coming company in the aviation data arena, iJet, founded by Michelle Saro in 2009 after the tragic Air France crash off the coast of Brazil, is revolutionizing the way airlines look at data. The crash of Air France flight 447 and the subsequent struggle to locate the airplane’s data recorder led Michelle to believe that there must be a better way to capture and record critical aircraft data. This realization led to the development of iJet Onboard, a Platform-as-a-Service that captures aircraft data through a combination of onboard hardware, ground-based systems and multi-link data management. The market for data collection and management in aviation is full of big-time companies, from major manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus and GE to smaller organizations and subsidiaries such as Jeppesen. Traditionally big data’s presence in aviation has been driven by the desire for airlines to increase operational efficiency and reduce cost anywhere possible in this cut-throat environment. Surprisingly, simple changes such as slight diversions in flight routes or new methods of auxiliary power management can save millions of dollars per year in fuel and maintenance costs for the airlines. Michelle knows that iJet is a small brand entering a very entrenched marketplace, yet she is hoping to disrupt this market with her innovative approach to aviation data. Unlike its competitors, such as Boeing’s Gold Care program which focuses on reliability and maintenance information, iJet Onboard provides additional data related to aircraft operational efficiency, emissions outputs and even passenger events such as lost baggage. Rather than developing her own user applications, Michelle has taken a page from Apple’s Developer Network instead and provided only the data stream allowing future developers to create unique user applications.
Michelle has taken her previous experience at SeaMobile and RealNetworks and used that knowledge to position iJet uniquely in the aviation data market. Although iJet Onboard is currently engaged in its industry trial phase with an undisclosed operator, Michelle seems upbeat about its prospects to make a difference for operators going forward. According to Michelle, the ability of iJet to affect operators’ bottom line is so compelling, the platform has a chance to revolutionize the industry. For airline operators, iJet is quickly becoming the information platform that allows operators to maximize their efficiency through collected information that only iJet can provide seamlessly for both Boeing and Airbus aircraft. The ability to work on both Boeing as well as Airbus aircraft is a key value proposition for airline operations currently running a mixed fleet of aircraft.
Michelle is quick to note that big data in aviation is unique with the strong Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations focused on safety which tend to drive innovation out of the industry. To overcome this challenge, Michelle has positioned iJet as a platform-as-a-service that minimizes the need to physically change the airplane during installation and platform updates. Using this approach, interaction with the FAA and its burdensome regulations is reduced and the disruption impact to airlines is minimized.
Breaking into the aviation data arena has also been a challenge for Michelle and iJet. Unlike many other markets with a large number of customers, the market for airline data is limited to approximately 30 large carriers around the world. With their fleet of approximately 2,000 airplanes, reaching all of these customers is critical to capturing enough market share to succeed. As such, Michelle has enlisted the help of some large organizations, most notably the Boston Consulting Group, to help her secure meetings with many topline managers in the airline industry. As Michelle notes, operational executives at large airlines are very busy people and getting your foot in the door to talk with them is not always an easy task. Yet with a compelling value proposition and some help, Michelle has been able to do just that. Through many face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and appearances at industry tradeshows, Michelle has been able to reach many of her potential customers and is starting to gain traction in the industry. While Michelle’s outbound marketing presence has been in full force in her attempt to acquire customers, her inbound approach to marketing has been somewhat more subtle. While iJet does have a presence on Linkedin and a company website, it does not have a page on Facebook nor a Twitter account. Yet, considering iJet’s potential customer base this is not surprising as it is more likely to find C-level airline executives on Linkedin and company websites than Facebook and Twitter.