In a year of black swan events, finally some good news. This spring the timing was right and the fit was perfect, according to ATP CEO Rick Noble, for the acquisition of Flightdocs, a maintenance tracking, inventory management and flight operations software platform. ATP, an information services company as well as a software solutions provider of products like ChronicX and SpotLight, says the two companies fit together perfectly, adding and enhancing the total portfolio of offerings.
“Parker Gale, the private equity firm that owns us, acquired ATP in September of 2015. [Flightdocs] has been on our radar, no pun intended, since then, for about five years now. This wasn’t a snap decision,” Noble says. “Flightdocs really expands our reach in the business and general aviation segment and although we weren’t in software maintenance, per se, we were in that space in a big way with the technical publications and the information services,” says Noble. He says the synergies were apparent and they are already plotting further reach and new products. “We think it’s going to enable us to create some collaborative products and new products that really allow our customers to do lots more under one interface,” says Noble.
Both he and Rick Heine, CEO of Flightdocs, agree that the overall reception from existing clients and long-term customers has been overwhelmingly positive. Heine says the size and scope of ATP will benefit their existing offerings with tremendous new capabilities. “Our customers like it, merging with a company that has complementary products, they can see the synergies naturally and know we will be able to provide new levels of service with this all-in-one solution,” Heine says. “There’s a lot of excitement about what it could be.”
Heine and Noble tout the numbers, saying they collectively have 7,500 customers and 137 countries, about 75,000 maintainers “using one or more of our products and in some way, shape or form, we touch 140,000 aircraft.” The benefits to those users will include a seamless interface between the two products. Efficiencies, data redundancies and a greater reach are also among the benefits that the acquisition will bring to the both sets of customers, the two companies hope. “Just because you have technology doesn’t mean it is the right technology,” says Lee Brewster, director of communications and industry engagement within the newly blended companies. “Just think of how many times copying and pasting data from a Word document to another program is required in maintenance. Every time that data is moved includes the possibility for errors. Now that possibility will be greatly reduced. We are aiming to be the single source of truth,” Brewster says.
“Imagine you’re using Flightdocs Maintenance to maintain your aircraft or your fleet of aircraft. Very soon, when you’re in that application, you’ll be able to go directly, seamlessly over to ATP and get access to the technical publications needed or the regulatory content that you need to work on those aircraft. The reverse could be true as well,” adds ATP’s Noble. “We’re really confident we can create something very unique in the market place. Bringing everything together under a single interface — it’s just going to make it easier and easier for our customers to up their efficiency.”
As for the acquisition process itself, both companies say it has gone smoothly. Noble, who has been a part of numerous acquisitions during his executive career, believes this is not common. “This is a competent group of business people. We all agreed on the direction of the business,” Noble says. “The senior leadership at Flightdocs is very in line with our team. It has been business as usual.” Both CEOs agree that the two companies’ cultures are very similar, both dedicated to having high quality, reliable products. “Egos were checked in a file cabinet. ATP has been a great listener. They are very a professional group. It has been one of the smoothest transactions out there,” agrees Flightdocs CEO Heine.
“One of the things we learned in the process was that we’re big on net promoter scores at ATP and the net promoter scores for the Flightdocs products were just off the charts,” Noble says. Net promoter scores are a measure of customer experience and can predict business growth and overall perception of a brand.
With the background work happening during the previous few months, Noble says doing the acquisition during a pandemic brought some special challenges. “Normally in a case like this, we’d have had lots of meetings, face-to-face, with various people from both organizations. And we certainly did that. But it was all done like we’re doing this meeting today, on Zoom,” he says.
“We feel that we’re all one business and I think we’ve come together much more quickly than I’ve seen in the past. We’re having a weekly, company-wide all hands meeting to explain what we’re doing and how things are coming together,” Noble says. “Right now we’re in the midst of what we call executive hello sessions, where each of us gets on and talks about what we do. Today’s was our chief revenue officer. But in the short term, we see some really obvious joint products where we can let Flightdocs and ATP customers move back and forth seamlessly,” Noble notes.
The two companies agree there are some other product opportunities that need to be more fully tested out, but could offer great potential. One of those products is ChronicX, a solution ATP says identifies, consolidates and ranks recurring and potential chronic defects across fleets. ATP says it is currently in use on 25 percent of the world’s commercial airline fleet. “Is there a version of that product we could create for corporate flight departments? We think so,” says Noble. Also, he thinks bizav operators could also benefit from their product, SpotLight. It’s a cloud-based solution that combines troubleshooting with curated, validated field experience. Noble says that product is already in use on the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as a version of that for the Boeing B737. “So, is there a market for that product for say, King Airs? Or Challengers? Both of those aircraft are very heavily represented in the Flightdocs customer base,” Noble says.
The current business environment doesn’t seem to worry either Noble or Heine. They both report seeing a recent uptick in business aviation and predict a relatively quick recovery in business and general aviation, which Noble called a nice surprise. “We obviously expected it to recover and it wasn’t nearly as affected, I would say, as commercial aviation. But, it’s coming back very quickly,” he says. Heine adds, “Bizav is rebounding now, ahead of commercial aviation. This corona scare will subside. People need to engage with one another and will start to travel and get back to normal.” Noble is slightly more conservative in his take on the overall impact to aviation. “Flight departments, I think, are going to be busier than usual, because companies are probably going to be more cautious about sending their people on travel on commercial aircraft.”
Heine, who lives in Florida near Flightdocs’ headquarters is bullish on the overall economy as well. “Underlying sectors of the economy are very strong here in South Florida. Recreation and construction are significant here, now. If you look at the roads, we are as busy as ever. People are shifting and starting to cautiously go back to their lives.”
The two leaders say the new ATP is ready for the future with more efficiencies using one interface, one tool. “It will be a big advantage to all of our clients to have everything on one interface. It will allow maintainers more time on the aircraft, to actually maintain it,” says Heine.