Making it Work

Frequency aims to bring legacy aviation communication technology up to speed

The software start-up has developed a platform that will make it possible for airline staff to share text, voice, video or photos at the same time, giving all users an overall view of where flights are

Darach Ó Comhraí, chief operating officer and co-founder of Frequency: The software start-up is looking for a candidate airline to participate in the project. Picture: Maura Hickey

An Irish software company is planning to hire up to ten staff this year to scale a product it believes can change the face of aviation communication.

Frequency is a Dublin-based software-as-a-service (Saas) start-up founded by three former Aer Lingus pilots, Darach Ó Comhraí, Justin Perry and Kris Vansteenkiste. It wants to digitise communications systems used by airlines, claiming it can reduce inefficiencies and save clients both time and money.

The company has backing from the European Space Agency as well as Boeing, and last year closed a seed funding round worth €600,000. The investment was led by Zoosh, the Irish venture capital company known for the hands-on role it takes in developing the companies it puts money into.

Frequency has built a platform that brings the different methods of communication used by staff and management at airlines into one place. It says this represents a significant improvement on the tools normally used by airlines, which are disparate and can cause delays and confusion.

Ó Comhraí, Frequency’s chief operating officer, said the idea for the company came from frustrations experienced by the three founders while they were working for Aer Lingus.

“About three years ago, myself and Justin were flying, doing what we normally do, when we had a bird strike,” he said. “We weren’t co-located with maintenance staff, so we had to try to describe the issue using a basic text messaging system.”

Ideally, Ó Comhraí said, he would have been able to send a photo of the strike to show what the issue was, but that wasn’t possible with the messaging service the airline was using.

Airline staff have to juggle up to eight different, often old-fashioned, communications systems, including radios, emails, phone calls and walkie talkies. Things can fall through the cracks and messages can be missed.

The industry needs technological advance, Ó Comhraí said, pointing out that passengers are increasingly able to avail of in-flight wifi and cabin crew often have smart tablets.

“This started off with us looking into the problems around communication, and we realised that aviation relies on eight legacy communication channels,” he said. “It was necessarily that way, though, because as new technologies were introduced they were added to the existing tools rather than replacing them.”

Frequency’s platform makes it possible for airline staff to share text, voice, video or photos, with the key aim of speeding up an aeroplane’s turnaround time. The system automates routine data sharing and overlays flight information for users, which gives everyone on the system a bird’s eye view of where different planes are and what the status of different flights is.

The Enterprise Ireland-backed firm is about to launch a demonstration project to validate the system, in a bid to show airlines how its technology can make their life easier. It’s looking for a candidate airline to participate in the project, Ó Comhraí said.

“Our goal is to run the project this year, and for that to lead to our first sale. So we want a team of ten people by the end of the year, and to push on from there.”