Metro Aviation (Booth C1023) has purchased Ottawa, Ontario-based Guardian Mobility, a provider of global tracking, voice and data communications, flight data monitoring (FDM), and analytics services. This is the second acquisition of this type by Metro—it previously purchased Outerlink Global Solutions in 2014 and has continued to develop its technology under the Iris brand, offering near real-time tracking, push-to-talk communication, FDM with voice and video, immediate alerts and warnings, and analytics.
Guardian’s G4 product provides global, real-time user tracking and two-way messaging in a single device equipped with automatic flight following (AFF) and additional telemetry unit (ATU). Metro said buying Guardian will give it access to portable products that fill gaps in its current Outerlink product line, as well as the benefits associated with Guardian’s status as an Iridium value-added reseller.
Metro CEO Mike Stanberry told AIN that the acquisition “was very complementary for us. Guardian has a huge Canadian and overseas presence, which we do not have. It has a lot of fixed-wing clients while our efforts are primarily in rotorcraft. And it is on a strong upward trajectory for acquiring new business, and our Outerlink lacked a good carry-on device and Guardian has really hung their hat on that.”
Stanberry said he saw Guardian customers as eventual potential step-up clientele for Outerlink systems services and equipment. “As the industry becomes more safety-oriented, operators might start out with a Guardian carry-on device, but might move into an Outerlink system as a way to further develop FDM, and flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programs,” he noted.
Guardian systems are currently installed in 1,500 aircraft in 22 countries worldwide, in addition to an unspecified number of military aircraft through the USAF Foreign Military Sales program, including that with the Iraqi Air Force.
Stephane Momy, Guardian COO, told AIN that the key to the company’s success to date is taking complex technology and making the user experience easy. “We make it simple for the customer. Our plug-and-play G4 system attaches to an aircraft’s glare screen. It’s portable and provides tracking and two-way communications with two-way messaging to and from the aircraft.
"It comes in two versions. One comes with a normal antenna, the other with a small patch antenna that can be placed on the glare screen. Our G4MX product is a single box solution that meets all the U.S. Forest Service firefighting requirements for tank and water bucket reporting information. You don’t need to reconfigure the box from tank to bucket every time you change it.”
Momy said the incentive to being acquired by Metro was that “we wanted to go from being a small, nimble shop to being a small, nimble shop with more capital backing and more opportunities and access to more markets.” He also said Guardian’s billing system will allow Metro’s customers to buy “buckets” of data and spread it around their fleet as opposed to facing heavy overage charges when individual helicopters face data-intensive usage situations, as in during fire seasons.
Metro’s Stanberry said the need for practical, faster data solutions is only going to increase. Referring to Outerlink’s Iris system, he said, “You can hire the best people and educate them. You can put them in the finest equipment with the best safety management system. But how do you know when they get in the aircraft that the aircraft is being operated in a manner intended by the OEM, consistent with federal aviation regulations, and company policy? You don’t know. You know after the fact. That’s the reason for Iris.”
Outerlink developed the system that transmits Iris data in partnership with Viasat. “They’ve been a phenomenal partner,” said Don Rucker, director of Metro’s technical services group. “Our goal is to make FDM more attainable for everybody.”
FDM is already paying big dividends when it comes to Metro’s own fleet of 140 helicopters, Stanberry said. “Looking at our own data, I discovered that only 13 percent of our pilots were doing engine shutdowns correctly on our helicopters equipped with Safran engines.”
Stanberry and Rucker said this can have expensive consequences as allowing these engines to cool down longer than two minutes during shutdown can boil the oil, potentially causing carbonization in the oil lines and potentially causing accidents. After a look at its own FDM data, Metro reemphasized proper shutdown procedure with the result that “there was a substantial drop in the percentage of people doing it wrong,” Stanberry said.
The other area where FDM data has saved Metro substantial sums is when it comes to mitigating maintenance costs related to hot starts on EC145s, where a time/temperature exceedance can trigger an engine teardown with related costs of between $300,000 and $400,000. Over the last 12 months, using FDM data visually verified by boroscope inspection, Metro has avoided at least two teardowns based on FDM data taken during hot starts. “Safran was blown away at the amount of data we had recovered at 100 Hertz a second,” Stanberry said.