Aviation software business takes off with regional pilots

· The Pulse

Edmonton-based Air Trail has been quietly growing its airline business over the past five years, relying on referrals and direct sales to build its customer base among aviation customers who aren't on most people's radars.

"It's a pretty in-the-background type of business ... Regional aviation tends to be very focused on putting your nose down and just getting the job done," said Bradley Poulette, founder and CEO of Air Trail, noting that his company ends up acting similarly.

Air Trail provides compliance automation software that helps pilots and airlines track operational details that must be reported to regulators like Transport Canada, replacing the paper records or in-house spreadsheets companies tend to use for crew tracking, flight and maintenance logs, and weight and balance. The software is geared towards what Poulette called the behind-the-scenes but crucial operators that people don't typically think of when they think of an airline – medevac pilots, crop dusters, charter flights, and the like.

The company was part of the first cohort for the Alberta Innovates Revenue Accelerator, run by GrowthX, which helped the company grow significantly, COO Brandon Kwong said in a Linkedin post.

Sales cycles are long in the aviation industry, so some of the deals closed during Air Trail's time in the accelerator were already in the pipeline, Poulette said. "However, I will also say that there were opportunities that were in our pipeline that were stuck, that GrowthX helped us to unlock," he added.

Pilots often fly thousands of trips a year, with thousands more logs to complete for each flight. It's easy for mistakes to happen given the cumbersome and time-consuming paperwork mixed with quick turnarounds and packed schedules.

"For example, oftentimes someone could miss putting a signature on a document or put the wrong date or something like that. And it takes a human being to go through each individual record," Poulette explained. "So it takes a lot of time for these operators to go through and catch errors like that. Whereas Air Trail not only helps them to catch errors like that, but it also helps them to prevent errors that are easily preventable when they're being entered to begin with."

Brandon Kwong and Bradley Poulette stand in front of the Air Trail office on a downtown Edmonton street

Air Trail's COO Brandon Kwong and CEO Bradley Poulette have found a market for custom compliance software by serving an industry that often goes unnoticed but operates right above our heads. (Hilary Sweet)

Requirements to complete the proper paperwork can also conflict with safety regulations that control how long pilots can be on shift.

"We're only allowed a 14-hour duty day, so when we're just getting home at 13-and-a-half hours and there's an hour worth of paperwork, how do you make that work?" said Mike Marceau, chief pilot at CanWest Air. "But with Air Trail, it's a five- to 10-minute deal."

Marceau and CanWest Air have been using Air Trail software for years, and have worked with Poulette to tweak the product to better suit their operations.

"There are some other programs that are similar, but they're never tailored exactly to (our) operational needs," Marceau said. "And then, some of these apps, these developers that are so big that they don't have time for the smaller operators."

Canadian operators have been particularly interested in the product because it has been customized for this country, Poulette said. But he sees Air Trail growing beyond that, noting that more concerted sales efforts have seen recent uptake in the last few months from international companies.

To keep up with its goals and growth, Air Trail is expanding its small team "and looking to do as much of that in Edmonton as possible," he said.