White Paper: The evolution of a Flight Management System
Author: Pawel Kruk, CEO, Leon SoftwareSubscribe
Pawel Kruk, CEO, Leon Software shares the story behind Leon Software, the business, the solution, its success and a look to the future
In the ‘How Technology Works’ articles, Aircraft IT gets a close-up look at a prominent Aviation software developer and vendor. In this issue, Pawel Kruk tells us about Leon Software, the business that he founded and still leads, and about the development of the software solution to its currently successful place in the market.
Leon Software was founded in 2007 and is focused on cloud-based flight management software or scheduling software delivering a system for business aviation and scheduled operators, cargo and commercial, and also for trip support companies. To go back to the start again, I used to be a dispatcher and a commercial pilot and was involved in the flight preparation process for which there were no sophisticated tools, well, no tools at all, it was all done on paper. I was involved with IT as a hobby and so we initially created a small IT-based tool just to make our own lives easier but with no thought to create a business from that. Then we realized that the market was hungry for this kind of solution and so we decided to further develop it and offer it on the market; it was a happy accident.
I continued with the software while still being a pilot but, in 2014, the IT business became too big and too busy, so I had to decide between continuing with the software as a full-time business or being a pilot, I decided quit the pilot job and turned all of my efforts and energy to building the company and its solution.
WHY DEVELOP A SOFTWARE SOLUTION?
Because the initial development of the tool had been for our own use, we didn’t take into consideration any sort of market requirements; we were thinking about our own concerns. We didn’t want to use paper because you cannot replicate, archive or do any sophisticated processes with paper, and we wanted something a little more sophisticated than an Excel Spreadsheet but not too sophisticated because the requirement from the market in those early days was not so much as it is today. We decided to make our solution Cloud based from the outset, which made it the only FMS (Flight management System) solution in Europe that was deployed in the Cloud in 2007. In the early days, when we were offering our software to customers, they wanted the software to be hosted on their own computers. We refused to do that because we believed that eventually the Cloud-based would be more popular. With the likes of Google launching Docs on line, we realized that our software could be accessed online.
Previous experience as a dispatcher and as a pilot helped with the software development at the beginning because, while theory is one thing, practice is different, and when you know how things are done from the perspective of the person whose job it is, that makes it easier to reflect the workflows and philosophy of the process within the software. Of course, later on we have hired more people had not necessarily been previously involved with aviation but, at the beginning, that aviation experience was crucial to developing an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) which could be quickly delivered and covers the customers’ essential requirements.
LEON SOFTWARE’S USPs
We’ve been able to perfect our solution more than others in the market because we started first, so we had more time for development and, as a consequence, we have more features. Of course, we are not completely different from our competitors but Leon software certainly has more functionality around different areas of the application. We started with the Ops module which is now very advanced; our Flight Time Limitation Engine.
Leon Software flight operations software products include modules for the various departments that make up airline operations, particularly Ops (figure 1), Sales (figure 2) and Crew (figure 3).
For Ops, the solution’s flight operations software, enables users to be aware of every aspect of the flight preparation and to be sure that dispatchers work flawlessly. With Leon, dispatchers don’t need to inform crew about every change nor to track permissions’ numbers on a white board. It is all catered for within the solution.
With sales, the Leon System’s flight quotation software can help users to increase the sales team’s efficiency and effectiveness plus the sales progress for every trip with sales checklists, a well as download quotes from Avinode and respond directly from the application.
Leon’s crew management software calculates Flight Time Limits for users according to their OM part 7. The system manages the crew duty roster, monitors licenses, medical certificates and other documents, warns about flight and duty time violations and automatically informs crew members about last minute schedule changes.
There are also modules for maintenance and reporting.
In Europe, regulation is a complex are with a lot of different regulators in different countries. EASA should be the common denominator but, in practice, every state has its own regulations or different interpretations of regulatory requirements. Our FTL engine is known on the market to be very reliable and efficient, and we believe that we are better than others in delivering this key software component. Also, we offer a lot of tools for our customers so that they can customize their own experience. Normally, when you want to, say, have a custom document layout (FMS is about producing different documents, reports and things like that) you need to go to your software provider’s customer support and say that you want to have a particular report od document layout, which they will deliver to you, usually for an extra cost. Leon Software invested the time to deliver tools so that users, with a little knowledge of html and scripting language, can manage things like different layouts for themselves: the application is highly customizable.
Because we’ve been on the market for fifteen years, we have realized that there is a need to think about security. At the beginning that was less important when there were only a few customers but as we grew, security became more important and we strive to be ahead of the pack with regard to security measures we apply to the software. Also, we are consistently applying efforts to that. Of course, all providers in this market are thinking about security. We’re talking here about IT security and we have a business within the organization which conducts penetration tests on the software to search for weaknesses, flaws and leaks because there is no such thing as super-secure software, all you can do is to manage the level of security because, the higher the level of security, the higher the cost of security maintenance. Also, the security process needs to be in the company as a routine. For example, we have certificates, ISO 27001 and ISO 9001, and put a lot of effort into fulfilling those requirements and to have the procedures in place in the company. There are the processes in Leon Software to ensure and manage security with a Quality department, a Compliance Officer, the penetration tests already mentioned, and two-factor authentication.
When we started to sell internationally, the first market we tackled was the UK and, in that market, we were approached by a potential customer who simply wanted to buy the software: no selection process, no trial period; it was odd. So, we contacted them and asked how they had learned about Leon Software. They told us that they had been behind with some reporting when the CAA had visited them and were struggling to put things in a way that the regulator could accept their reports. The CAA told them to ‘just take Leon’. We’d had no communication with the CAA so we were really happy that they had seen our software being used in an auditing context in Europe and had been sufficiently impressed to recommend us. So, we have no problems with regulators.
Sometimes our customer might be facing an audit and there will be some findings which he can communicate to us if we need to correct something. That’s happens because, for example, when there is a regulation which is, theoretically unified at a European level, there will be different interpretations of that same regulation and, although it might be the same regulation, in each country there will be different expectations as to how it is done. We have implemented in the software those small details of difference which we have learned from trial and error, auditing results among our customers.
ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE PAST YEAR
Our biggest achievement in the past year has been implementing Leon for large operators in Europe, particularly, Global Jet Concept and Avcon Jet Group. From that, we are now onboarding other big companies. To give a perspective, when we started in 2007, we were mainly selling to small operators up to about ten aircraft but we have continued to grow from there and, in 2021, we successfully deployed Leon for large operators.
We are now able to service all types and sizes of business aviation customers from very small to very large ones where the organizational requirements are completely different. Large organizations have different departments doing different things; the workflow is different. For small organizations, typically, one person will be responsible for doing a lot of things. Software needs to be organized and divided into different areas for larger customers and it needs to look a little bit different than for smaller customers. We have managed to tailor Leon software so that it can be easily deployed not to overwhelm smaller businesses but also it can be deployed for large customers. This has been a major achievement. We were prepared for that and extended our customer base into the larger operator market. This also means that, as a business grows, Leon can scale the solution they are using accordingly.
What is also important is that we are a profitable business. That is an important consideration for potential customers that Leon Software is making money and is financially stable.
Leon offers training but at no extra charge: the pricing model has no installation fee and no fees for training. That means that we take a risk that, if a customer doesn’t like the software, we will have invested a lot and will make nothing. We have a trial period of one month and a user can leave after one month without any obligation but during that trial period we do the training, the set-up and it’s all free. That said, our conversion ratio is pretty high. The free trial costs us nothing but time and is a genuine USP (Unique Selling Point), distinguishing Leon Software from our competitors. The training itself is online which, especially post-Covid, is more acceptable, with a number of online training events online rather than one lengthy training event on-site. We do find a site visit after the training can help people with using the application and to deal with any questions and issues that might arise. But any further training needed after implementation is also included in the subscription fee. That means that, if any employee of a customer feels they need some training, they don’t need to seek permission from their line manager as there’s no additional cost involved.
THINGS TO CHANGE
Generally speaking, ours has been a journey of trial and errors and, with the benefit of hindsight, we know what we could do better by avoiding some of the mistakes that we made – the errors in trial and error. Generally speaking, our business was built and grown on its own profits – no loans or outside investments. Looking back, I think that, at the beginning, we could have been more aggressive in areas like hiring more people. We were careful about launching our idea on to the market and were, perhaps, a little risk averse. On reflection we were in a very good position and at the right time but we were unaware of that. So, if I were to do it again, I’d definitely go faster but, of course, that’s easier to say now, after the events.
There are lots of plans but our first priority is to secure our strong position in the European market as much as possible. So, while we might not add many new features to the software – we are pretty advanced with things like automation already – we do want to improve the overall user experience, to make the software feel more intuitive because that is a challenge when you are building a lot of features, it can get clunky and a little complicated for new users. We want to deliver a powerful tool but with a straightforward user interface that is robust and looks nice: in brief, we want to invest in the product. Also, we are preparing to sell more to the commercial airline market where, while they are not currently embracing the Cloud, we believe they will in time and will appreciate the benefit of modern software to replace their legacy solution, often dating from the eighties or nineties, and we would like to be part of that change. Perpetual improvement of the product and its market reach is our real future plan with a strategic focus on the European market.
Having worked since 2003 in the professional aviation sector, Paweł started his career as dispatcher and was also an airline and business charter pilot. In 2007 he founded Leon Software; developing and marketing a cloud-based flight management software solution. Leon Software is currently servicing more than 300 customers worldwide.
Leon Software excels in delivering an advanced cloud-based solution for the aviation business, including scheduled and cargo operators, business aviation, trip support companies and brokers. From flight OPS and crew management to charter sales, Leon provides a versatile platform design in a digital ecosystem of an aviation organization. With years of continuous development, customization and workflow automation are an essential part of Leon Software’s philosophy.