If there is one lesson that aerospace companies should take away from the latest battles over U.S. budget cuts, it is that a global mix of business is more crucial than ever.
Syracuse, N.Y.-basedSensis is certainly aware of this. While the company is aiming to take on more major U.S. air traffic management (ATM) projects, it is also shielding itself from federal budget uncertainties through its increasing presence in overseas markets.
Saab Sensis will be among those bidding for the's tower automation contract, which is one of the keys to modernizing the ATM system. The company is involved in many other projects related to surveillance, airport operations and surface management, and is deploying its systems in the U.S. and all over the world.
The Saab group bought Sensis Corp. in 2011 in order to gain a larger foothold in the ATM industry. The Sensis facility in Syracuse has become the headquarters for Saab's ATM operation, which also includes European ATM company HITT after its purchase by Saab was completed in December.
Bringing HITT into the fold has further expanded Saab Sensis's international reach in the ATM market. And because HITT and Sensis will be cooperating closely on projects instead of competing, they will help each other in regions where one is stronger.
Saab Sensis CEO Marc Viggiano says China is a prime example. HITT “has a really good footprint in China, where we've struggled to get penetration” for airport surface management systems, he says. India and Latin America are other markets where HITT has greater presence.
“HITT remains a Dutch company, separate from the U.S. company formerly known as Sensis, but all parts of the ATM business within Saab are moving toward operating in the ATM marketplace as one entity in the near future,” says Viggiano.
While Sensis and HITT are beginning to merge their products, both companies will continue to support their existing lines.
Viggiano says customers “can expect to see a best-of-breed product emerge over the next couple of years.” This will be centered on airport applications and incorporate capabilities from the legacy companies.
Combined, Sensis and HITT have ATM products in more than 40 countries and 250 locations, and they are expected to receive more than half of their orders from outside the U.S. in 2013. Even excluding HITT, Sensis is forecast to increase its non-U.S. order share above 30%. The trend is expected to continue next year, Viggiano says, making the company “much more internationally diverse.”
So while the budget cuts that have been forced on the FAA and other U.S. government agencies are worrisome, Saab Sensis should not be too badly hurt by program delays, Viggiano says. “We're fortunate with our mix of contracts.”
In general, the company is performing well financially. While Saab does not release full details for its Sensis subsidiary, it is profitable, and its top and bottom lines grew over the past year, says Viggiano.
Saab has made it clear that it wants to establish a strong presence in the ATM market. “I think you can expect to see that growth continue,” Viggiano says, although he will not reveal whether Saab is planning more acquisitions in the ATM field. He notes that there are still “obvious gaps” in the group's ATM operations.
Despite its growing international scope, Saab Sensis still holds sizable stake in the FAA's modernization efforts.
The company is among those pursuing one of the FAA's next major ATM contracts, which will modernize control tower systems. The tower flight data manager (TFDM) project is intended to introduce electronic flight strips into U.S. towers, as well as other new automation capabilities that could include surface management and collaborative decision making (CDM).
The potential scope of this contract means “you can expect to see all the large system integrators take an interest,” Viggiano says. Saab Sensis intends to lead a bid team, which is also expected to include Nav Canada. The FAA is not yet soliciting bids, although contract award is expected in the first quarter of 2014.
In its offering, Saab Sensis is likely to draw on the experience it has gained through the use of its Aerobahn airport surface management system at several U.S. airports. The most notable of these deployments is at New York John F., where it was purchased by the airport but also used by airlines, the FAA and other stakeholders to improve operations in a CDM environment.
The TFDM program could be the vehicle for extending CDM activities such as those at JFK to other airports, says Viggiano. “The days of a standalone, isolated system just serving one stakeholder are receding,” he says. “Everything is connected—if you fix one problem at the gate, you run into another bottleneck somewhere else on the [airport] surface.”
Saab Sensis is also involved in Airservices Australia's project to upgrade its tower systems, along with Nav Canada. Under a 2009 contract, the company has deployed automation systems—including electronic flight strips—at four initial sites.
It has already been commissioned at smaller airports at Broome and Rockhampton, and is due to be commissioned at major airports in Adelaide by midyear and Melbourne later in the year. The contract also includes options for a further 20 airports.
Airport surveillance is another of Saab Sensis's main focus areas. In the U.S., it manufactured and deployed the FAA's airport surface detection equipment—model X (ASDE-X) system at 35 airports, which draws data from sources including automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and multilateration.
Now, it is deploying a very similar system at another nine airports that did not receive ASDE-X, under the FAA's airport surface surveillance capability (ASSC) contract. The contract, announced in January 2012, is worth up to $119 million if all options are exercised. The initial ASSC system will be in San Francisco, with commissioning expected in March 2014.
Saab Sensis is also heavily involved with ADS-B and wide-area multilateration in airspace surveillance applications. It has provided ground infrastructure for Nav Canada's extensive ADS-B program, among other global customers. Currently, the company is particularly active in Europe.
Austria's Austro Control is this year expected to launch a nationwide multilateration and ADS-B surveillance network. Saab Sensis has provided 62 ground stations, with site acceptance testing scheduled to occur over the next two months. Austro Control was previously one of the first to provide multilateration surveillance for terminal airspace, at Innsbruck.
Sweden's ATM provider, LFV, has also begun deployment of a nationwide multilateration surveillance network supplied by Saab Sensis, and has recently completed the first phase of this project.
The company is providing ADS-B systems to both Avinor of Norway and the U.K.'s NATS for deployment on oil platforms in the North Sea, with the NATS project near completion. It has also won a contract awarded by Denmark's Naviair, for ADS-B stations in Greenland and the Faroe Islands that will serve as links in a North Atlantic ADS-B corridor.
Meanwhile, Saab Sensis is helping pioneer new ATM technology in the form of remotely operated control towers. Saab was already deeply involved in this program before it acquired Sensis, which now oversees this business.
LFV has purchased a Saab remote tower system, which allows small airport operations to be controlled from a central location. The system passed site acceptance tests in December, and the final certification process began in late February.
The remote tower should be operational this summer, and will be the world's first certified system of its type. Norway will not be far behind with certification of its own system, Viggiano says. Saab has also sold this technology for trials by Airservices Australia.