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Since 2015, AirSuite has been working to bring all the elements of flight operations management together in one comprehensive cloud-based package.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario-based company was founded by Michael Kleywegt, CEO, and Doug Carlson, COO – both professional helicopter pilots – who seized the opportunity presented by an industry downturn to fine tune their own flight ops program.
“We decided to commercialize the app,” recalled Carlson in a recent interview with Skies. “We saw the need. Older, experienced crews were retiring and a younger, more tech-savvy generation was coming in. The time was right.”
The system they developed, named Cirro, takes all the paper-based elements of flight operations management and digitizes them. Accessible on all devices – PC, Mac, Android, and iOS – Cirro also has an offline mode that allows numbers to be updated when pilots are in remote locations with no internet service.
For the past eight months, AirSuite has been focused on developing a new module for its Cirro flight management system – one that will track, calculate, and monitor pilot flight duty time (FDT).
FDT has been a peripheral component of Cirro since it was first launched, but a comprehensive FDT module was recently finalized on Sept. 26. It arrives on the market just weeks ahead of the Dec. 12, 2022, deadline for CARS Part 703 (air taxi) and 704 (commuter) operators to comply with Transport Canada Civil Aviation’s new flight and duty time regulations.
“We focus very heavily on the regulations,” said Carlson, who still flies helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. “If there is any grey area, it’s cleared up with our contacts at Transport Canada. The new module is definitely compliant with all the prescriptive regulations.”
As of Dec. 12, 703 and 704 operators must either comply with the prescriptive regulations as written, or propose their own performance-based Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) for approval by the regulator. Either way, the new regulations call for the tracking of hours of work, time zones, limits for single-pilot operations, and more.
“I’ve demoed this (Cirro’s FDT module) with so many operators who are trying to build their own FDT solution on Excel,” said Carlson. “It’s beyond that now. There are so many things to track.”
He said the beauty of Cirro is that it’s accessible right from your phone.
“Everyone has access to the FDT module,” he continued. “The new regs are complicated. For single-pilot operations, for example, they cannot fly more than eight hours in the last 24. So, we developed a leg entry tool so we will know what time they took off and how long they flew. It’s good for split operations, too, who are both 702 (aerial work) and 703 operators – because 702 flights are not affected. By tracking it on a per-leg basis, the time is accounted for properly and the pilot flies the maximum amount.”
Carlson said Cirro’s FDT module can be customized to individual operators, even taking specific client requirements into account. It can track flight and duty time based on the prescriptive regulations, or according to an operator’s approved FRMS.
“With a performance-based approach, we’ve developed the module in such a way that we can modify each individual regulation,” he explained. “Depending on the operator and the scale of the development required, there is an additional fee for customization and quality assurance.”
By pilots, for pilots
As a helicopter pilot, Carlson described how a typical day would be logged into Cirro’s FDT module.
“The first thing I’ll do is indicate that I’m flying day VFR by myself,” he said. “That will establish my maximum duty day. Based on the start time of my flight duty period, Cirro will tell me how long I can work that day. As a single pilot operator, I only get eight hours total, so that’s where the per-leg times are so important.”
At the end of the day, pilots log when their flight duty period ends (when engines or rotors stop), but Carlson said the work period may extend longer to account for paperwork and post-flight activities, which must be tracked separately.
“That’s another confusing part of the regs. Through Cirro’s interface, we show you the total number of hours you’ve done for the week and how you can maximize your time. The pilot can see this and the admins with management permissions can see it, too. Any warnings or violations are sent to the pilot and to FDT managers via email.”
In addition, the FDT module can track crew currency and experience on type across several categories, including passenger-carrying currency, night vision goggle currency, flight crew currency, IFR currency, float currency, and RGR (Twin Otter specific).
Currently, Carlson said there are “hundreds of operators and thousands of users” – including 705 airline operators – using Cirro now.
The company benefits from an integrated relationship with the fatigue specialists at Pulsar Informatics. That firm helped write Canada’s new FDT regulations based on statistics, and is now collecting information to validate the safety case. The data they are using to form their opinions comes from Cirro.
AirSuite sells three Cirro packages: Lite, Essential, and Premium. All come with the new FDT module included. Operators can choose from other a la carte features to customize their subscription. Each account has an unlimited number of users and devices.
“Instead of using all these separate systems, crews just do what they normally do. Operations are really unphased,” said Carlson of Cirro.
He said there is a one-time start-up fee per aircraft and then users are charged monthly. Operators are also responsible for obtaining iPads, tablets, or other devices that they will use to access the system.
“Basically, they download the app from the App Store or wherever they get their apps, and then they all sync up. We’ve seen operators use their own personal devices, too. We need to have data redundancy built in while we’re flying – the point with Cirro is that it’s right on your phone.”
Data recorded by Cirro is permanently stored in the cloud, facilitating any future audits. Information for specific time periods, pilots or aircraft can be pulled whenever needed.
“The entire application is built by pilots, for pilots – and, it’s aiding compliance for ops managers,” concluded Carlson.