When Avinode, the online portal provider to the charter market, bought out its US rival, CharterX, in 2010, it acquired the aircraft operator safety audit specialist Wyvern as part of the deal, since CharterX was Wyvern’s parent company.
There were clearly some advantages for Avinode in having Wyvern under its umbrella, since a recent safety audit provides a level of comfort to anyone buying a charter or trying to choose among charter operators. However, the rationale for Avinode to continue to own Wyvern was less than clear.
The reason is simple. While safety audit information will always be an important dimension for Avinode to monitor and display, there is no logical necessity for Avinode to own its own safety audit company, any more than it needs to own charter operators to display charter information. From that standpoint it was not a surprise when Avinode announced in October at NBAA that it was selling Wyvern to Nexus Services America for an undisclosed sum. As Avinode CEO Niklas Berg said at the time, “Through the sale of Wyvern we are better able to focus our energies and investment upon further enhancements to the Avinode Marketplace technology.” In other words, Wyvern, which Avinode managed for two years as a stand alone business, having nothing to do with the Avinode marketplace technology except as an input feed for safety data, was by definition non-core, and something of a distraction for the tightly knit Avinode management team.
For Nexus, on the other hand, as a flight operations and trip support specialist, safety is of necessity a fundamental operational factor, so having a safety audit company as part of its portfolio, makes sense and provides it with yet another service to sell to clients. Not only is the additional emphasis on safety brand-enhancing for Nexus, the new owners also benefit directly from having access to Wyvern’s extensive operator client base. Moreover, as we see elsewhere in this issue, in the profile of Nexus CEO Abdullah Al Sayed (featured on the front cover), the acquisition has been extremely positive for Wyvern as well, not least because of Nexus’s willingness to add considerable fresh momentum to Wyvern’s bid to become the global kite mark for charter operator safety.
The clearest mark of this is the speed with which Abdullah Al Sayed, the owner of Nexus, put together an extremely powerful board of directors for Wyvern. Art Dawley, who took over as Wyvern CEO in May 2013 is joined by Vincent Santulli, former CEO of NetJets Europe and NetJets Middle East, Shawn Vick, who has held leadership positions with OEMs, including Gulfstream, Bombardier and British Aerospace, and Nicholas Sabatini an experienced regulator and former No. 2 at the FAA. “While Wyvern maintained the status quo, as it were, under Avinode, Nexus has the vision to really add a dimension to Wyvern,” Dawley says. At the same time, as a globally recognised brand, Wyvern adds to Nexus’s own global ambitions.
“Our aim is to extend our reach as a global company by taking advantage of Nexus’ offices already in place while retaining the Wyvern headquarters in Pennsylvania. As part of the Nexus Group, with a world-wide operation, we can open up a lot of additional opportunities for Wyvern, particularly in emerging markets. Nexus has been in India since 2012 and is now established in Rwanda, and both India and Africa are of great interest to us. I feel that Wyvern can really help business aviation and charter services in emerging markets as they look to implement world-class safety standards,” Dawley comments.
Wyvern has a long history in the safety audit business. As Dawley explains, the company’s origins go back 1991 when the chief pilot of a major insurance company was asked by the company to set up some procedures for checking the quality of charter operators who were providing flight services to its executives. “Gradually those standards were embraced by the charter purchasing community as other large companies heard about the initiative. These processes evolved into the Wyvern standards and they have become one of the really well known standards in the industry, providing a benchmark over and above the minimum standards set by formal regulatory requirements,” Dawley explains.
To obtain a Wyvern Wingman certification, an operator undergoes a two day audit by two Wyvern auditors, one focused on the operational side of the business, the other on the state of the aircraft and its maintenance history. The audit takes place at the operator’s main base but can also include visits to subsidiary bases, and the auditors work with both the operator’s safety manager and representatives from operations and maintenance. Pilot interviews are also part of the process. The audit is demanding and detailed and includes comprehensive checks on documentation in addition to the onsite inspections. Any issues of non-compliance are raised with the operator and have to be addressed before the final report is written. Once full compliance is achieved a final written report is posted on the Wingman Report and the operator becomes a Wingman Operator.
As Dawley points out, advances in avionics and the cockpit environment, along with new approaches to managing safety and risk, mean that the whole safety and audit process has to constantly evolve to take account of new dimensions in flight safety. “The rapid evolution of technology in the aviation sector, particularly over the last five years, requires a continual re-examination of approaches to risk management,” Dawley notes. To stay abreast of these evolving trends, Wyvern is actively involved with industry working groups and safety organisations as well as the OEMs.
“There is no doubt that it is much more difficult to become part of a Wyvern Wingman program than to get a safety audit elsewhere. However, what we have found over time is that the Fortune 500 companies in particular place a high value on our audit precisely because it is thorough and far reaching,” he comments. “As part of Nexus we continue to have our main revenue streams, which are all about selling safety intelligence data to the top corporate customers, and we intend to grow this by vetting as many charter operators in emerging markets as we can reach, including Latin America, China, India, Africa and the Middle East, which is a very important market for us. So as challenging as it is, our safety data becomes ever more valuable as we seek out and add those emerging market operators to our reporting structures and online products.”
One of the most exciting new developments for Wyvern is the unmanned aerial systems market – drones to you and I. “This is a new and developing market with embryonic regulation of operating procedures and safety rules and few regulatory guidelines. We see this market as containing huge potential to provide a benchmark for measuring risk.
On another front, Dawley says that Wyvern’s biggest new opportunity at present lies in the further development of the long term strategic relationship it has struck up with the American insurance giant, AIG, which is the largest aviation insurer in the world. “Through AirGuard, we will be providing safety and risk management products to AIG’s customers. AIG describes AirGuard as “a suite of best-in-class loss control and safety services expressly designed to address the complex risks, safety and regulatory challenges of corporate flight departments, commercial air carriers, airports and various aviation service providers and support groups”.
“This is a huge opportunity for us, and one that we are very excited about,” Dawley concludes.