Michael Chaput, President and CEO of Sure Weather, also known as SureWx, tells Airside International how his company has so quickly grown its business
SureWx is a Quebec, Canada-based specialist in weather science and its impact on the aviation industry. The company’s SureHOT+ solution takes weather feeds from automated devices positioned at an airport and uses that data to establish a precise holdover time applicable to an aircraft for any de/anti-icing fluid available on the market today; it then conveys that output as required, most notably perhaps to flight crews, either electronically to the flightdeck via ACARS or by Sure Wx-designed applications on electronic flight bag (EFB) applications.
Installation of the company’s SureHOT+ service has been undertaken at 16 airports across Canada, North America and Europe. That number is growing by the month, demand being particularly strong in Europe right now. SureHOT+ installations are already in place at European hub gateways like London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Copenhagen, Helsinki; Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is next to be added to that list. Meanwhile, SureWx also offers electronic holdover timetable services at more than 150 airports around the world.
The impressive growth in SureWx’s business over the last few years can trace its origins much further back, Chaput explains. He has been in the aviation business for the better part of 20 years and one of his first roles involved researching the reasons behind the crash of Air Ontario Flight 1363 shortly after take-off from Dryden, Ontario in 1989. The Fokker F28 had taken off with ice on its wings, and undertaking that research in support of the major judicial enquiry that followed the disaster – 24 people died in the crash – made Chaput more than familiar with the de-icing fluids and technologies of the time.
In fact, the industry was at that time and in regard to the issue of aircraft de-icing still somewhat immature, he suggests. It was only over the next 10 or 20 years that technology and system development, alongside a tightening of processes, so improved the safety of aircraft operations vis-à-vis the de-icing and anti-icing challenge. And, as a result, it is only recently that operators (both airlines and airports) have been able to think less about the safety issues and far more about how the costs and delays caused by on-airport de- and anti-icing can be minimised – in other words, while safety remains absolutely paramount, operators can also concern themselves with how they can maximise their operational performance throughout the de/anti-icing process.
Given the scale of aircraft traffic through modern hubs, the harsh weather conditions that can impact them during the winter that can quickly cause operational delays if the gateway’s winter operational procedures are not incredibly robust, and the speed of social media communication that will almost instantaneously spread the bad news of any flight delays around the world, there is a lot to be gained from maximising efficiency even in times of snow and ice, Chaput points out. “And this is where we come in,” he advises.
The benefits can be gained by both carriers – SureWx’s natural customer, for its is to them that it began offering its data – and to gateways, which can also use this sort of information as part of the new airport collaborative decision-making (ACDM) systems which so many are developing.
… BUT IT’S NOT BEEN EASY
The benefits are many, but the concept of the provision of real-time digital data on efficient but regulatory-compliant holdover times direct to the flightdeck has only slowly been adopted. Why? Well, this industry can be slow to change at times, Chaput says, while traditionally flight crews have sometimes been regarded as somewhat set in their ways. But now, given the cost pressures on operators to find efficiencies wherever they can, alongside the generational shift towards the use of digital rather than paper-based information sources, the corner seems very much to have been turned.
In 2007, Transport Canada was the first of the national aviation authorities to certify the use of electronic holdover time (HOT) determination systems that could provide regulatory-compliant de/anti-icing information to portable and tablet computers in relation to the various de- and anti-icing fluids used at airports. It approved the use of HOT-based software applications that could form part of EFBs, and in 2010 SureWx signed up its first major customer in the form of Canadian carrier WestJet.
Sure Wx’s expansion was further encouraged by a change in primary ownership in 2012 when Jorgen Clausen, chairman of the Danfoss Global Group, took control. Clausen, a pilot and “a serial entrepreneur” according to Chaput, has encouraged more rapid growth. With US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of the eHOT concept being implemented last year, SureWx could then sign up its first big US client – in the form of integrator FedEx.
The expansion into Europe previously mentioned has also formed part of a growing global footprint. “We used to see ourselves as a hardware provider, offering off-the-shelf weather sensors as well as our own systems,” Chaput notes. “But over time we have definitely become an ‘information provider’ to the flightdeck via EFBs, either pushed there or on request” (the data can also be fed by means of many other mechanisms to different hardware platforms). “One of our customers say we sell them ‘benefits’ in the form of the electronic data,” he adds.
With operators including handlers, specialised de-icing companies and airport ground operations people as well as the carriers all looking to reap the safety, environmental and cost benefits that Chaput points to as all being characteristic of using a SureWx holdover time digital delivery system, the company might be growing for some time to come yet.