IS SUCCESS ALL ABOUT THE BIG PLAYERS IN AVIATION? (Originally published on www.aviationplatform.com Sept 2014)
Last month I visited a success story in the aviation business hidden away in a rural area of the UK. Growing from nothing a decade ago, ParaJet is now a market leader in the powered parascending sector.
I can already hear some of you switching off, saying 'this is not aviation, rather some extreme sports fanatics pushing the boundaries of the aviation sector and interfering with flight rules as laid down by the authorities'.
A year or two ago, I might have agreed with you. Now I think differently, having had the chance to meet some of the people in the sector and the chance to better understand the complexities, regulations and sheer enjoyment many are getting from the low entry costs into getting airborne. I am also impressed with the business model they have implemented.
Tom Prideaux-Brune is the Managing Director for ParaJet and having met him at Farnborough earlier this year, I wanted to find out more about the product and the business he runs. I had started to become fascinated at the success story that ParaJet is writing, whilst its sister businesses also look set for success with the Rotron Engine, the Skyrunner car and some (as yet secret) products in development.
Recently Rotron announced a partnership with CybAero AB to power their Apid 60 Helicopter with both its petrol and 'heavy fuel' engines. This is a significant step forwards in UAV operations as rotary engines have traditionally been too unreliable, too heavy and inefficient. Rotron's patented technology overcomes all of these issues with its innovative power to weight technology and will hopefully be another market changer for the Gilo Group.
I wondered as Tom walked me around their design and engineering facility near Shaftsbury in Dorset, what makes a successful aviation or aerospace business these days?
We have become familiar with the Boeing, Airbus, SpaceEx type giants and their long standing stories. It has taken some of the global giants in the aerospace sector many decades to grow into the multi-billion dollar concerns of today. With shareholders driven by returns and with employee, supply chain and customer orders to full fill they are the archetypal super tankers that need time and of course lots of money and talent to find their market penetrating products for today and the future. Some suggest that the sector is becoming risk averse with a lack of innovation resulting in less new aircraft and businesses coming into the sector. The Airbus NEO concept and the Boeing MAX concepts suggest that 'old new' is safer than 'new new'. Both however are head to head with recent product releases in the A350 and B787 and as an enthusiast I'm grateful to see some variety creeping back into the market. But, both of these aircraft have taken many years to design, develop and launch and this massive undertaking is both costly and highly loaded with risk.
The 787 mobilisation proves that nothing can be taken for granted in the launch of a new aeroplane and as a result, the market has become steadily defiant in developing new or more innovative solutions to flight. Cost driven developments rule, when we know from history that with taking risky innovative moves; the sector moves forwards.
However SpaceEx, along with innovators such as Virgin in the Airline sector have something different. They are new, fresh and shaking up their respective market sectors. In fact Airbus could be said to have done this two or three decades ago with the introduction of the first Airbus A300 aircraft.
Back to Parajet.
What is it that makes powered parascending and in particular ParaJet so successful I ask Tom. "It's bringing flight to everyone. For less than £10,000 you can have your equipment and training completed and weather being generous to you, that's it you are off".
Fantastic as this sounds, anyone could possibly have built the ParaJet business given a little foresight and inventiveness, but the team at Gilo Industries, ParaJets parent company has something different, like those larger organisations Virgin and SpaceEx.
Continuing to walk around the facility, we get to meet the inventor, energy and drive behind the business, Gilo Cardozo MBE himself. Before meeting Gilo, I had pictured in my mind an older gentleman, slightly eccentric and self-absorbed in engineering and technology. My preconceived picture was broken when around the corner lead by his engaging smile strode this energetic, casually dressed young man. He is easy to talk to and the passion for what he does oozes out at every opportunity afforded him. I have to say I was genuinely taken in by his enthusiasm. I wanted to fly there and then. We shared stories and he told me about the journey from working with Bear Gryliss flying over Everest, to the current day as he headed off to the Rotron facility to no doubt create something new and exciting.
From ParaJet, to heavy fuel UAV engines, to Skyrunner the flying car (it's so futuristic looking one might think it was from a James Bond movie), how has this business become so successful in such a short time?
Could it be from the Chief Executive of Gilo Industries, the leader driving the group forwards. Surely he was the ruthless financier and project driver helping keep this ship steaming forwards. Like those big cousins in aviation, surely no risk taking here.
Jim Edmonson welcomed me into the 'boardroom come meeting room come CEO office', with a strong handshake and a smile to warm the Artic.
We discussed the group plans and the investment needed to fund the business growth. Jim was in between meetings and very busy but kindly afforded me the time to investigate his business and to quiz him on the Company's success.
Although this facility and office has to be set in one of the most beautiful areas I have ever come across for an aerospace engineering company, this is no cottage industry. The facility includes several CNC manufacturing machines, large assembly and stock holding areas and of course the 40 people now employed in the group. It's a large business to run. (I believe there is also an area close by they can fly from which most of them seem to do).
Jim was just about to go on an important conference call but took time to explain the dynamics in the business and sector and how Gilo Industries was over coming them. But as quick as we had started, the commercial drivers pressed on and Jim had to leave.
Before leaving the Boardroom I had the chance to soak up the energy of the room. Large, white walls and with impressive furniture I guessed were made from aeroplane parts, it felt like the hub and nucleus of the organisation. With white boards covered in engineering and financial notes, aviation photographs and air of creativity, I started to understand what makes Gilo and its subsidiary ParaJet successful.
Whilst it is a commercially focused business with investors and shareholders to satisfy, it's energy, and creativity balance the commercial focus with an engagement and enthusiasm that starts right from the welcome in the main office, to the engineers working in the workshop. I get the impression they all feel committed to this aviation success; of bringing flight to us ordinary folk through ParaJet through to more commercial endeavours with Rotron. The products are selling well and with 25 ParaJet units to get out the door that week, it was time to move on.
Back outside in the sunlight, Tom and I walk past his car. I knew it was his car because it had a ParaJet Zenith attached to the back. How cool is that?
"Yes, I was flying this morning before work and last night as well, although it got a little windy". Gilo and Tom had swapped flying stories as we passed by earlier. I was becoming envious of that simple capability one has in this sector; to just 'go fly'.
So what do I need to get going apart from a few thousand pounds and a week’s training.
"Permission from the land owner or some open public space and you are off". It's that simple.
Apart from (of course) strapping a ParaJet to your back. Tom is a little taller, a little younger and certainly more strapping than me and I asked him what it was like to 'put this on your back'. He lifted a ParaJet Zenith with two hands and asked me to see for myself. I will warn you, it took a little more effort from me but the moulded body case and aluminium casing would be no problem for most.
It was time to go, I had enjoyed seeing behind the scenes of this aviation business.
As I left, I actually felt like I was a part of this story. I have no reason to say this other than the place has a feel for the future, a positive energy which can only be welcome in the UK and European aerospace sector.
Innovation and creativity are often used phrases in the sector, but I could see and feel them in Gilo. With Jim and Tom driving the commercial aspects and the 40 other staff genuinely engaged in its success, it feels they have it right here. They have got the balance between risk, investment, innovation and the most crucial aspect, customer service. Customers love their products.
They have the 'right stuff' and I for one will be intrigued to watch them grow into new areas, develop new products and continue the success story the aviation industry in the UK and Europe can really be proud of. So, to answer my own question on success in aviation, Success will come through when the product, business model, market need and people all come together at the ‘right time’. Now, seems to be the ‘right time’ for ParaJet.
Pieter Johnson is Presenter and Producer of AeroSpace radio programme Xtended
If you want to listen to the full feature interview on Gilo Industries and ParaJet Click Here
Xtended is an internet radio station producing programmes covering the aerospace and aviation sector. Produced and presented by Pieter Johnson from XTPMedia, it is co-hosted and supported by Gareth Stringer, Editor of Global Aviation Resource (www.globalaviationresource.com), and Tim Robinson, Editor in Chief of AeroSpace Magazine, the flagship publication of The Royal Aeronautical Society.
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