Aer Lingus pilots develop software to bring aviation industry into the digital age

New Innovator: Start-up founded by three pilots, Frequency, hopes to make airline communications simpler

Darach Ó Comhraí, Justin Perry and Kris Vansteenkiste are the co-founders of Frequency, a software collaboration and communications platform designed to bring the aviation industry into the digital age.

All three are pilots who have been flying with Aer Lingus for a combined 50 years and on one occasion when Ó Comhraí and Perry were flying together, they experienced a bird strike and found themselves trying to describe the damage to the maintenance team using a text messaging system.

“It was clear that a photograph would have been a much more effective way to do it but there is a stark contrast between what is available within airline operations and what is now possible with smartphones, tablet devices and in-flight wifi,” Ó Comhraí says.

“Aviation relies on eight legacy communication channels. This is overly complicated and leads to inefficiencies and delays. The sector is ripe for disruption with digital technology and this is where we fit in. Frequency is designed to make aviation communications simpler between key groups such as flight crews, operations and maintenance. This has been made possible by the introduction of in-flight wifi and the kind of connectivity that wasn’t there before. Frequency simplifies the communication process by allowing users to choose the best way to get their message across whether this is by voice, text, photo, video or file sharing.”

Ó Comhraí says that a key aim of the system is to speed up turnaround times, which will be music to the ears of airline operators. “We’re looking to improve the on-time performance by two minutes on average per flight,” he says. “We believe this is possible by eliminating inefficiencies in existing communications processes. At present, there’s a lot of repetition so you end up with communications roadblocks that slow things down. Some of the problems are inherent and can’t be fixed within the existing systems, but when you digitise you suddenly get more options.”

The Frequency system automates routine data and information sharing and overlays live flight data to provide users with context. “Dynamic flight groups automatically create a space for the full schedule of flights where the team can collaborate to ensure a safe and on-time departure. We sort and prioritise the flight groups so that the right decisions are arrived at sooner, reducing the impact of any delays,” Ó Comhraí says.

The founders come from a mix of engineering and software backgrounds and Perry is currently on special leave to work full-time in the business. The company has completed the MVP version of its platform and the next step is to trial it with a commercial airline.

Frequency, which is an Enterprise Ireland high-potential start-up company, has raised €600,000 to date to fund development and one of its investors is the venture capital company Zoosh. It backs cloud technology start-ups and is a combination of a traditional VC and a digital product studio that helps its fledglings in a hands-on way.

“We have the domain expertise and Zoosh has the expertise to help us with the software development,” Ó Comhraí says. “Another key investor at the beginning was Propeller Shannon and we also got funding from the European Space Agency with whom we’re hoping to commence a demonstration project shortly so we’re currently looking for candidate airlines to participate.”

Frequency’s revenue model is SaaS with airlines paying a fee per aircraft. “This approach unlocks a number of potential users and gives airlines flexibility as they can trial it without any real upfront cost. Once they can see the benefits they can expand it to an annual subscription,” Ó Comhraí says. “It’s all hands on deck at the moment to secure a trial and start bringing in revenue and, all going well, we will have the team up to about 10 people this year.”

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business