NZ firm taking airlines into the cloud

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 13:07 08/01/2013
Merlot Aero
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
INTO THE CLOUD: Merlot Aero chief executive Mark McCaughan.

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Airlines may be used to navigating the skies but many have not yet set a flight path into the cloud-based IT trend that is sweeping the globe.

But Auckland-based software-as-a-service company Merlot Aero believes the market is primed for its cloud-based programme which enables airlines to organise their day-to-day flight crew and aircraft operations through a web application.

From a small eight-person office Merlot Aero has picked up 24 contracts in the past 24 months in Asia, Australia and Canada, and is about to spread its wings into the United States.

The Merlot Aero software handles flight crew rosters and aircraft scheduling efficiently and with up-to-the-minute flexibility while complying with a myriad of aviation regulations.

Merlot's chief executive Mark McCaughan says such software programmes are common, but putting it in the cloud means airlines don't need to shell out for expensive servers to host the data and processing power behind the system.

In addition McCaughan says the software's accessibility from mobile devices and an in-built messaging service similar to Facebook makes real-time communication with staff and suppliers far easier.

"The airlines that are making money and that are aggressively growing are the airlines that are looking at every cent they spend," he said.

"More traditional, or legacy, airlines like Air New Zealand and Qantas seem to be more conservative, the more nimble carriers like Virgin and the low cost carriers are more open to cost savings in this area."

The major benefits in cloud-based products were the ability to rapidly deploy the software in a matter of days and for less cost than going through an IT procurement process, he said.

Once set up, the resources could be scaled up at a moment's notice to match any growth or reduction in operations.

However, it was just one piece of a company's IT puzzle which included integration with existing services and staff training, among other operational hurdles.

McCaughan would not give away how much the company was turning over but said it was meeting some quite aggressive revenue targets and he expected to have about 15 new clients in the US alone by the end of 2013.

A global competitor, Sabre, was retiring one of its old software iterations and asking airlines to upgrade, which provided a chance for challengers to get a foot in the door.

Several years ago McCaughan sold a similar server-based aviation software product to an Accenture subsidiary called Navitaire, but then started Merlot Aero to mine the growing cloud-based market.

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Merlot Aero has 25 staff worldwide and its clients include Philippines airlines SE Air, Sriwijaya Air and Mandala from Indonesia, Air Asia from Malaysia and regional Express, SkyWest and SkyTrans in Australia.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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