Innovation Keeps Flightdocs Ahead of Curve

 - September 9, 2019, 3:44 PM
Flightdocs CEO Rick Heine, left, with president Greg Heine and Bonita Springs (Florida) Mayor Peter Simmons at the grand opening of the company's technology center in August 2018. (Photo: Flightdocs)

There are a few things Rick Heine insists Flightdocs never strays from as the aviation software provider’s growth trajectory and headcount keep climbing. One is never letting the phones at its Bonita Springs, Florida office ring more than twice. “That’s a top priority and it’s still instilled in every new employee,” Heine, Flightdocs founder and CEO, told AIN.

Another is employee engagement with customers—including Heine and the company’s other senior leaders. “If a customer calls me at three o’clock on a Sunday morning, I’m picking up the phone,” added Heine, who routinely gives out his cell phone number to customers.

Wavering from either one of those suggests complacency, which is the greatest threat the privately held company faces today. “My biggest challenge is to make sure we never lose that edge,” he explained.

That edge is the reason why Flightdocs is where it is today. It grew out of a small, New Mexico firm offering paper-based maintenance tracking services to fewer than a handful of clients. Heine acquired Flightdocs in 2003, and today he has 100 employees and about 1,000 clients with rotorcraft and fixed-wing fleets that include Fortune 500 corporate flight departments, charter and fractional aircraft providers, air ambulance operators, government agencies, and regional airlines.

“We were the first fully cloud-based maintenance-tracking company,” Heine said. As dependence on the Internet grew and its functionality as a business tool expanded, “I just saw, as the new technology emerged, the opportunity to get in the business and to be able to get some momentum,” he added.

Heine knows a little something about aircraft maintenance. After high school, he began training as an airframe and powerplant mechanic around the time of airline deregulation. “I was told I’d be lucky if I get 10 bucks [an hour] working third shift on a tarmac in Anchorage, Alaska,” he said. “At the time, I just couldn’t afford to be an aircraft mechanic.” So Heine went off and did other things—noting he’d completed his airframe training and was just beginning powerplant training when he left—such as painting houses. Later, he started a financial services statement processing technology company whose first big client was Citibank. It was after he sold that business that he discovered what would become Flightdocs.

Calculated Growth

In the early years, Flightdocs took a calculated approach to growth, selling to a couple of customers at a time. Heine wanted to make sure that “everything was perfect” for Flightdocs’s new customers, and that it listened and responded carefully to each of their needs. All the while, he was tweaking and improving its mainstay maintenance tracking product. “We incrementally got the beachhead.” 

Its maintenance tracking software enables owners and operators to track and manage the maintenance and airworthiness of their aircraft as well as regulatory compliance, including airworthiness directives. In the years since, it has added inventory management, flight scheduling and crew management software as well as an encrypted, real-time messaging platform called FD Connect that enables communication between flight crews, maintainers, schedulers, and dispatchers via the web and iPhone and iPad apps. 

At this year’s NBAA-BACE, to be held from October 22 to 24 in Las Vegas, it will announce the worldwide roll-out of what it calls Flightdocs Operations. Instead of providing and supporting separate software modules, Flightdocs Operations combines them into a package for corporate flight departments as well as provides a platform for other services to tie into such as catering, hotel reservations and ordering aircraft parts. “It really becomes the world’s first flight department management system,” he said of Flightdocs Operations. “Ultimately you’ll be able to do everything on Flightdocs; everything from scheduling a flight, doing maintenance, ordering food for your people on board, to getting them a hotel room, or making sure parts are delivered on time, or immediately.” 

But the innovation won’t stop there. Heine believes innovation is important to a long path forward for the company. It’s why nearly a third of Flightdocs’s staff are developers who are working on existing and new projects. Equally important to its longevity is a continued focus on its founding values of listening to and being hyper-responsive to its customers

“I want to know that [customers] respect us and we respect them,” Heine said. “Everything comes after them. I’m vigilant on that. We’re so locked in that complacency ain’t getting through the system.”