Aviation’s ‘singularity event’ underlines Satavia’s strengths
Aviation specialist Satavia has seen activity hard hit by the rapid collapse of the airline sector and has responded by adapting staffing arrangements and modifying its digital environmental intelligence platform to cater to the new dynamics of the industry.
“Globally there are about one in 20 flights taking place compared to three months ago,” says CEO and founder Adam Durant. “They are mainly cargo flights, with some repatriation.
“We’re just hitting the period where flights are dropping off. It’s a singularity event which is affecting the entire industry.
“From our perspective, we’re very lucky we closed our investment round in January, plus we embarked on a €1.9m project with the European Space Agency last year and we’ve received a £1m grant for our work with Rolls-Royce and GKN, so we’re OK for the rest of the year, but the best case is that this is going to affect the industry for three to six months. Our sales cycle is from six to 24 months, so we need a year to be sure we are in a healthy place.”
Satavia received £1m investment from Cerebrum Tech in the January round, and as well as the ESA project, has received a £1m grant from the Aerospace Technology Institute to work with GKN Aerospace and Rolls-Royce.
Satavia’s technology is the only data analytics solution in the aviation marketplace able to combine and validate multiple environmental, aircraft and operations datasets to track how the atmospheric environment causes damage to a single aircraft, or an entire fleet.
“A lot of airlines will go out of business and that will affect OEMs –original equipment manufacturers – and maintenance, repair and overhaul operations,” Adam says. “What we need is to get flying again as soon as possible and for that we need wholesale testing of the population – a lack of that is the only reason we’re staying at home.
“We’re adapting our product to support aircraft lessors, so for instance stranded assets will need to be moved around and corrode while parked up long-term. “For example, if it’s being stored in wet conditions, corrosion will be fast, and that’s where we can help.”
As a start-up, Satavia doesn’t qualify for support from the government because it isn’t paying business rates - what start-up is? The danger to Cambridge is that failing to support younger start-ups will a thriving ecosystem.
“The government has overlooked start-ups and growth-stage companies,” Adam notes, “so our only option is to furlough employees. The thing is with start-ups is that they need to keep going or they won’t get the momentum again, so we have to keep going.”
“The loan scheme generally doesn’t apply to start-ups as they tend to be loss-making, so we’ve cut people’s hours as a temporary measure, but we’re keeping the team intact.”
There are 18 people in Satavia’s team.
“The primary focus is trying to reduce operational costs. Fortunately we made a few serendipitous hires: Nick Bray CBE has joined as chief strategy officer, Joelle Garden has come onboard as delivery manager and has overhauled our project management along with Sheri Smith, our executive people and culture manager, who has been dealing with HR – and we’ve all become very good at using Microsoft Teams.”
Nick heads up innovation for a London-based defence and security consultancy, as well as working as an air commodore in the RAF’s innovation unit - 601 (City of London) squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
Adam adds: “Nick previously spent 33 years in the RAF where he served as commandant general of the RAF Regiment, headed the RAF police and was at one point responsible for the protection of all the RAF’s aircraft, bases and people. He finished his military career in Whitehall where he led the MOD’s strategic policy and planning for Asia Pacific and Latin America. Nick routinely lives in Cornwall and is a keen surfer.”
Joelle “has an aerospace background including some years at Marshall Aerospace”. Another joinee is Arthur Meadows, who starts as head of product after working with start-ups including Grapeshot and fetch.ai.
As the UK lockdown continues, Satavia is pivoting. Given Nick’s background, it would be unsurprising if there weren’t some defence work at some point.
“In any new circumstances there’s always an opportunity, always a silver lining,” says Adam. “We’re lucky in that we have strong capitalisation, we’re looking after the team, and we’re already innovating new products. As an agile SME that’s what we’re good at and we should be fine: we’re managing it very closely.”