Providing comprehensive support for air traffic management (ATM), Air Traffic Solutions is a stand-out consultancy firm in the aviation sector. Founder and managing director Mike Lockwood spoke to us about the company, including its history, recent projects and future plans.
Could you give us a background of the history of Air Traffic Solutions?
Air Traffic Solutions has been around for nearly four years now. It was formed by myself, an air traffic controller with more than 25 years in the aviation industry including time also in the Royal Australian Air Force. I decided to leave Airservices as I saw a gap in the consultancy business here in Australia and around the world and set up ATS to fill that gap.
In four years, we’ve developed ourselves into a worldwide business operating in over 15 countries. We can provide everything from system requirements definition through to the operational procedures that air traffic control (ATC) need to operate the system.
How has that developed into products for the aviation sector, with your consultancy and other services?
Initially, we specialised in operations and procedures, but actually our first major contract was a specialised training package for an ATC system in Australia. That morphed into a training design, development and delivery project that was delivered over two years. We found a real niche in the training environment for ATM systems and so initially moved into that.
We also aligned ourselves with a number of significant major aviation companies early on and we work with them providing specialised support. They include some of the major civil engineering firms around the world, who come to us regularly for specialised ATM support. We help their projects, for example when they’re building airports, to help the clients get the most from all services, and provide the best ATM possible. This has been a really big growth area for us, working with these major customers and clients around the world and providing specialised niche support to them.
You mentioned your unique offering, has it affected your relationship with similar companies?
The industry for consultancy firms like ATS is quite small but I think what we are is a disrupter, in that we provide everything from start to finish in a project such as system engineering support, requirements definition, software verification and validation, training, airspace design and operational procedures.
Larger companies come to us as a one-stop-shop, we can help them by providing all these specialised services. That’s really the standout point for ATS compared to other companies who only focus on one aspect, such as airspace design or similar. We have that end-to-end ability to meet a client’s needs.
How do you want your next year to look different for Air Traffic Solutions in 2021?
We’re really looking forward to continuing doing what we do best. Where we really set ourselves apart is getting out and working directly with our clients. When I go out to a project or business development it’s myself, the owner of the company, talking to the end users understanding exactly what they need. We talk to them so there’s a clear understanding of what’s required, what the risks, issues and opportunities are, as that’s one of our standout bespoke services. Sometimes there are opportunities that a client has missed, and we work with them to get the best possible outcomes. I’m looking forward to being able to get back out there again travelling and visiting our clients.
We’ve had some bigger projects that were going to be starting this year but they’ve been delayed with the Covid-19 pandemic and the disruption in the aviation sector. I’m really looking forward to continuing those relationships, getting those projects back online and finishing off those big projects.
Can you tell us about your products and services and how they’ve been performing?
Some of our team members spent about five months in the Middle East in 2019, delivering initial projects to a defence force in the region. That transposed to us having another lead on a contract to design, develop and deliver further training for them. That obviously has now been delayed with the travel restrictions but we expect that to resume later this year.
We love our work in the Middle East and we’ve built some strong relationships delivering our services in this region, so we are looking forward to continuing with that. The Philippines is one of the areas where we’re now seeing a lot of interest and it is definitely a market that we’re very keen to get involved in as it has massive potential for growth.
Overall though, we strive to deliver the highest possible levels of service allowing us to meet our clients’ needs.
What about other assets or equipment of the company? Are you offering any new products?
We’ve had our own learning management system (LMS) for a number of years and we’re providing that to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau almost as a development platform for them to choose what they liked or didn’t like within the LMS.
We’re currently in the process of redesigning it and looking to support, in particular, those customers in the aviation industry needing to have staff retrained or replaced as work eventually returns, so not only training courses, but also the knowledge base for our partners. It will be created so it can be branded as if it’s their own website, without the need to have to spend money on developing it.
We also do marketing for Visual Vectoring, an Australian company delivering ATC training software. It’s cutting-edge voice recognition that runs on any type of modern computing platform so is ideal for self-paced learning. They are currently offering six months of free access right now because it’s just about impossible for people to get into normal classrooms with the self-distancing requirements. It’s a way to help people who may have started ATC training continue training at home using a web-based platform for the next six months during this pandemic.
One of the other large infrastructure projects we’re working on is the Western Sydney Airport, which is a greenfield airport to the west of Sydney International Airport. We’ve been working with one of their partners providing airspace procedure advice, looking at new systems such as UAS and how they may integrate with the airport, which will open in four or five years.
Additionally, we’ve been invited to tender by partners on a new greenfield airport development in Asia, which is very exciting for us. Hopefully we’re successful partners in the tender, and that will lead to some great opportunities for ATS in Asia.
How are your everyday trade and government services performing?
We’ve got a number of defence and government contracts, which have really put us in good stead during these troubled times. We’re getting an increased amount of work through them at the moment, which is excellent and I think shows the calibre of our team and the work we do. This is keeping us going while our classroom training is on hold, which has thankfully been quite effective helping us through the Covid-19 downturn while we wait for some of our other projects to start up again.
How does Air Traffic Solutions implement assets for cost-saving and efficiency for clients?
We’ve always prided ourselves on being a very lean operation. We work very well with our partners, don’t have massive overheads or big costs that we would need to pass on to our customers. During these times, we’ve been able to absorb some of the additional costs, that we’ve had during the Covid-19 pandemic, to help us reduce costs for our partners.
We’ve also adapted a number of practices so that we can continue working with our partners remotely and we’re doing that as effectively as we can. We’ve been working from home, providing all the support required by our partners and clients, which has been a great reflection on the way our teams are able to adapt in these difficult times.
So how does this help cost consumption for your clients over time?
At ATS, we don’t have a business development manager or people that go out and make promises. It’s always myself as the owner of the company that talks to our clients. I always make sure that I understand what they need, and that we exceed our client’s needs in every project.
From day one, I’m available for our clients 24/7 when we’re working on their project. We work on whatever time zone our client is. For us, it’s about making sure the client’s happy, the work is what’s expected. It’s rare that we need to go into any contract variations because we’ll always work adapting flexibly throughout the whole process to ensure that the client is happy at the end.
At ATS, my team know what decisions they can make themselves, and if it’s something they can’t, they contact me. The decision’s made quickly and we move forward with the client immediately. By doing that, we’re always providing these cost savings to the clients and ensuring that they’re getting the best outcome for what they’re spending.
How does Air Traffic Solutions continue to maintain efficiency and a positive effect on the environment?
We pride ourselves on making sure that the service, whether it is operational procedures or verification and validation of software systems, meets the client’s needs before we’re even talking about closing a project and moving away.
We work with our clients to ensure that when they’re buying a system or looking for new procedures, that they’re adaptable and future proof. We make sure that we’re providing a growing, capable system that’s going to move with them over the lifespan and lifecycle of the system rather than something that’s only going to meet, or perhaps not even meet, their immediate needs. We make sure that we’ve worked with them, recommended the correct equipment, get the right procedures processes in place, so they’re getting the best bang for their buck for anything that they do with ATS.
What has been the greatest business move you’ve made this year?
The best business move I made this year has been investing in our people. I’ve always wanted the type of people that want to do their best, provide the best for the clients, and have the same outlook on providing services. By having these people in the company, especially with the changes that have occurred this year, it’s enabled us to respond to the crisis quickly and easily. Our staff are flexible and understand that changes need to be made very quickly. That’s enabled us to move with the pandemic crisis and change the way we’re working.
We have significant reserves in the company and have been able to increase our pay to employees to provide a buffer for them. Then, later on, if the pandemic gets worse and business does shut down further, we’ve provided that buffer for our staff, so they’ll be prepared to come back.
At ATS, all of our staff are assets, not costs. They’re crucial as to why the company has been successful. We keep our communication open and transparent and we’re very careful in making sure we look after our staff and in turn they are always there to provide the best for our customers.
Looking to the future, what do you want to do next?
For the immediate future, 18-24 months, I want to continue to build ATS globally. It’s fantastic at the moment that we’re being approached and asked to tender for big projects. I want us to be the port of first call for these larger infrastructure jobs and ATM partners.
The reputation that we’re building, the staff and contractors that we’ve got in our projects are showing us to be one of the prime companies for consultancy in the ATM industry.