AeroCloud Systems, the Cheshire-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) for airports, has grabbed $1.7 million in funding capital in a round led by London-based VC Playfair Capital. Already successful in several US airports, AeroCloud is planning on using the funding to take on the established giants in airport servicing, as well as starting their expansion closer to home in the UK and Europe.
Predictive AI approach to airport management
AeroCloud takes a very different approach to its service compared to its competitors, an approach deliberately fostered by its co-founder and CEO George Richardson. When startups are usually London-centric and founded by people with a tech background Richardson has opted for Macclesfield and has a background as a racing driver. And this all forms part of their mission to disrupt the airport services sector.
Richardson is particularly proud of AeroCloud’s staff, and he deliberately recruits from outside the sector. “We want them to say, why do airports do things this way? Why are we going to do things this way? Why do our competitors think like this? This is a skill set that I want to encourage,” he told us.
Richardson founded AeroCloud when he and co-founder Ian Forde-Smith identified that many airports, despite a huge support sector, were operating significantly below capacity, often at only two-thirds of their potential. AeroCloud uses predictive AI, with up to 97% accuracy, to help airports better plan their gates and runway utilisation, increasing their operational capacity and, therefore, their profitability.
In another departure from the usual startup model, the company have started with clients in the US rather than closer to home. Focusing on small- and medium-sized airports they have been able to develop and test their product. Their service now operates in airports servicing as few as 20,000 and as many as 28 million passengers a year. The experience has prepared them for what they hope will be rapid expansion once they start marketing to more airports.
An innovative and disruptive product
Richardson recognises the challenge they face but also relishes it. AeroCloud is seeking to disrupt the airport industry by offering something very different to the traditional players. The airport operations industry has changed little since the 1980s, Richardson explained, “the industry is dominated by five legacy players who have stifled innovation by consolidating smaller companies. What we’re trying to achieve is the typical David and Goliath story.”
AeroCloud is a radically different approach to traditional airport operations management which typically comprises on site, heavy service- and support-led solutions. Instead, the company offers a SaaS approach that is typically one-fifth of the cost of traditional services and can be implemented in as little as 48 hours. It also offers an unlimited user licence, meaning that the information can be shared in real-time. This allows the efficiencies to be shared elsewhere: it isn’t just the airport operations that can use the projections, but everyone associated with the airport’s running, from janitorial staff to concession operators.
Positioning themselves as small, different, and ambitious they are, perhaps, a natural ally for those smaller airports that will face challenges in recovering from the devastation Covid-19 has wreaked on the sector. However, the small- to medium-sized airports are also an ideal opportunity for AeroCloud, “they’re the guys that need the most help, and they don’t have the resources that other airports have because they’re strangled by the legacy vendors,” Richardson said.
Ambitious expansion plans for UK and Europe
Winning the Playfair-led funding puts AeroCloud in the position to realise its founders’ ambitions. It means they can avoid simply being consolidated into one of the legacy companies, but also allows them to start expanding their operations. With a new member of staff being onboarded, on average, every fortnight, the company is already beginning to scale up for their next stage of expansion, focusing on the British and European market, and they are already in talks with several airports.
Richardson sees their role as reshaping the market, explaining the possibilities of their offer to airports that have never known any other way of operating. Richardson is determined that AeroCloud will be more than just a successful company. Their service has been transformative for the airports that have implemented it, and Richardson likes to see AeroCloud as a company that will make a difference, saying “you have companies that compete for market share, and you have companies that are special. I like to think we’re one of the special ones.”
On the raise, Chris Smith, managing partner at Playfair Capital, added, “George and Ian have created the world’s most advanced cloud-native software solution for the aviation industry to the delight of their customers. It is an absolute privilege to be able to join their journey and help them grow the company into a global market leader.”