Taking Flight

Mike Yeo, vice president of technology, has helped usher aviation technology into the 21st century.

Navtech finds success through excellent customer service and by juggling the latest in aviation technology

Building a company from the ground up and becoming one of the world’s leading providers of flight-operations software is Navtech’s story. Headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario, the company was founded by a husband-and-wife team back in the 1980s to create software for the airline industry. Today, Navtech provides solutions to airlines around the globe with five major product lines: flight planning, crew planning, navigation data, aeronautical charts, and aircraft performance.

The company’s customers range in size from small regional carriers to large international airlines, including attracting well-recognized names like Air Canada, Cathay Pacific Airways, and Delta Air Lines. “As a company, we are starting to focus more on mid- to large-sized airlines, to continue growing our business,” says Mike Yeo, vice president of technology at Navtech.

Regulations vary greatly on a regional basis. “The actual implementation of safety standards is different in each region,” Yeo says. In Europe, for example, the aviation-charts production processes must be certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), meaning that not only are the chart components compliant, but the company’s process for creating the charts must adhere to EASA standards. Australia, on the other hand, has different compliance standards.

“Does that mean we have to change our product? Not necessarily,” Yeo says. “But it may mean that we need to add extra diligence steps to our process in creating the charts for Australia to make sure we comply with Australian regulations.”

Working across so many global regions, Navtech attracts and retains customers by providing outstanding customer service. “The only way we can stay competitive is to be flexible and listen to our customers,” Yeo says.

That has been true since Yeo started at the company almost 15 years ago. “We’ve always had great products, but everybody loved our customer service, and that’s what got us in the door,” he recalls. “We have made huge investments between then and now to grow our products and make them industry leaders,” he adds.

Making It WorkDeveloping new products is often done in consultation with its customers. “A number of customers have come to us with unique ideas, looking for someone to work with them to translate those ideas into real products,” Yeo explains. In order to understand its customers, Navtech visits their facilities and observes their daily operations. “Nine times out of 10, our airline partners have great ideas that we can leverage into products, not only for them, but for other customers as well,” he adds.

Airplane design and development moves at a slower and uneven pace compared to other technologies. “Think of the computer on your desk,” Yeo says. “How old is it? Two, three years at most?” The systems in a commercial airplane may be five years old by the time it actually flies. “That presents a unique challenge, because while technology is moving fast, we are often constrained by comparatively older designs.”

A good example of a new technology gaining rapid acceptance in the aviation industry is Apple’s iPad. “Pilots have wanted to have something like the iPad for years,” Yeo says. “They want to have charts in an easy-to-access digital format that they can search.”

Traditional paper charts come in thick binders that have to be flipped through to find the correct chart for the right region or airport. In response, Navtech developed Navtech iCharts, giving access to a 60,000-page chart library through the iPad for quick access. “You have these game changers, like the iPad, that everyone wants to embrace, but at the same time you have the development staff working on other systems that are dated,” he says.

By working with its partners, developing new technology, and providing comprehensive customer service, Navtech continues to build its reputation as leader in aviation solutions. “It’s a very small industry in terms of the number of players,” Yeo notes, which makes good word of mouth crucial.