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Under the Spotlight:

Adam Durant

Former globe-trotter Adam Durant has gone from using planes as an easy and convenient form of travel, to helping the aviation industry with his company Satavia. It's a fascinating story, but we'll get to that later. Before that, please sit back, relax and enjoy some inane question designed to get to know the man behind the mach.

Can you give us a brief description of your company Satavia?

Satavia is an environmental data analytics company. We offer solutions to eliminate unscheduled maintenance and improve aircraft maintenance planning, and support flight planning, for manufacturers, maintenance repair organisations and operators. We focus on things like atmospheric dust, ice and volcanic ash, and provide information on what aircraft have been exposed to. We aggregate software technologies such as high-performance computing models, satellite data, and aircraft tracking to provide data for individual aircraft. We're a ‘Big Data', internet of Things-type company, and in the process of developing a prototype platform.

And how is this data collected and utilised?

Some of these technologies are already used to forecast weather or identify clouds. By combining these data we can asses what an aircraft has already flown through, what it's flying through right now, or what its going to fly through in the future. This information will support decision making done on the ground and on the flight deck. Aircraft have to be overhauled periodically and exposure to dust, ice and sulphur may cause the engine and airframe components to wear faster than expected. If this happens, then the aircraft may come out of service unexpectedly and this is costly and leads to cancelled flights. The industry is moving towards "Power by the Hour” services where the operator de-risks the maintenance to the manufacturer, and pays a fixed fee per engine, per flight hour to cover the maintenance. The manufacturer has to do upfront planning of when the maintenance will take place, which could be years in advance. If or when this goes wrong, it can cost £10Ms. In the future we will be able to provide predictive analytics to adjust the maintenance schedules ahead of time, to avoid the case of unscheduled maintenance. Ultimately we are aiming for a live system to support aircraft health monitoring and associated decision-making.

How did you come up with the idea?

I spent many years becoming an expert in volcanic ash clouds, and was originally trained as a scientist. I'd been doing it for around ten years and I felt as though I was in a very niche subject, so started working in climate research. After about two weeks into a new job at the University of Cambridge, the Iceland volcano erupted (Eyjafjallajökull) and grounded European aviation for five days straight which cost the global economy around $5B. I suddenly got quite busy, and ended up working for a spin-out company in Norway, partnering with Easy Jet and Airbus to test a piece of kit that could be put on aircraft to allow the pilot to see a volcanic ash cloud in front of an aircraft. While I was doing that, I noticed a broader opportunity to focus on a wider range of environmental threats like dust, sulphur and ice, and focus on technologies that are available today, so by aggregating existing tech to solve a much larger problem. So I formed Satavia, and have been working with the European Space Agency since for the last two years on feasibility study.

Whats the next step in Satavia's journey?

Well we are working on a proof of concept at the moment, but apparently I can't talk about it! We've aligned our lead customer from which we're looking to scale up. I'm also talking to potential investors, and have a few more project-based funding sources in the pipeline.

Have you ever met anyone famous?

I have indeed! At the end of last year, I was lucky enough to meet The Queen. This was because I was a finalist at Pitch@Palace, and we all went to the Palace in the evening to sip champagne; it was wonderful!

Can you tell us a bit more about your experience at Pitch@Palace?

Preparing for it was one of the most intense experiences I've ever gone through. Fortunately I had a lot of help from Accelerate Cambridge and their coaches; people like Kaye Coleman-Rooney, Hanadi Jabado, Chris Bunney and Charles Payne. We spent a good 50 hours preparing for a three minute script for a pitch which I delivered at the bootcamp in Harwell; that was just the first hurdle! It went okay as the Duke said afterwards "come and have a chat" so we started discussing common interests (he's a helicopter pilot) and he offered to give me some introductions, which he followed through with. Two weeks later we were at St. James Palace, where we got to meet his mother, The Queen, and spent the evening sitting in the throne room watching pitches followed by a champagne and canapés reception afterwards with a room full of the brightest and best in the UK; it was an amazing experience.

What do you enjoy most about working at Eagle Labs?

The people here, and the space... oh, and the beer fridge!

What is your favourite way to kill time?

I love to do sport. I used to do quite a bit of running, I've run some marathons and triathlons, and try to find an excuse to get on skis whenever possible. Anything that involves exercise is a great way to unwind.

What is your ideal comfort food?

…beer?!

How are you finding being a young parent and an entrepreneur?

There are new challenges on all fronts. It's extremely rewarding being a new parent, but with it comes sleep deprivation which, combined with the workload of being an entrepreneur, add more challenges. Coffee helps!

You're very well travelled. Of all the places you've lived, which have you enjoyed the most?

Funny isn't it; the further back things are, the more rosy things seem to be! I'd probably say my time in Michiigan, I lived there for five years right next to Lake Superior, it was like living in the wilderness. In the winter you get 300+ inches of snow, so you could ski, and in the summer go camping, hiking and swimming in the lake. It was amazing, it was all on your doorstep. I helped set the sailing club up and we had dinghies next to the office on the lakefront.

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