It all started with an idea to fix one specific problem—the lack of skilled airline mechanics to repair airplanes in a timely fashion.
Andrew Hakes, founder of AireXpert by Engio, has been a mechanic since 1989. And the one consistent challenge he has had to face during his career is the “significant lack of talented, knowledgeable, and experienced mechanics in the industry. It’s something that is only getting worse.”
That was his inspiration to become an entrepreneur and create AireXpert, a mobile communications platform that enables airlines to use the vast knowledge and expertise available to resolve an issue without causing lengthy delays.
“Airplanes, specifically commercial airplanes, are a huge assembly of hundreds of thousands of parts, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s just simply unrealistic that one person, individual, or group of individuals would know everything,” Hakes says.
That’s where AireXpert comes in. The platform allows aircraft technicians to communicate and collaborate with technical support providers during time-sensitive maintenance events, eliminating the logistical inefficiencies that lead to costly maintenance delays and flight cancellations. It also provides maintenance controllers with instant updates and notifications of the status of maintenance events.
Entrepreneurship has not been without its share of challenges, Hakes admits. One of his biggest obstacles was the fact that he faced resistance from people in the industry who were reluctant to accept change. But they are coming around to realize that problems in the airline industry need to be addressed, he says. Other challenges include operational and financial issues, finding talent, and development and design of IT. “It’s an ongoing process of trying to work through the challenges to meet the next set of challenges,” says Hakes.
The Buffalo native says that he can’t imagine establishing his company anywhere other than his hometown, especially because of its proximity to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, which enables him to test his product before he makes it available on a global level. Engio currently serves about 15 airlines in Buffalo, and Hakes notes that the company anticipates signing another contract in the near future. He says that potential customers have typically never seen the technology he offers before and like the way it approaches problem solving.
Hakes credits the Western New York startup community and its resources with helping him get from concept to product. Despite his initial naiveté, he has learned a lot since he began his entrepreneurial journey, and he continues to learn every day. He notes that his commitment to seeing his idea become reality has kept him going.
“It’s taken me down many paths, some of which were incredibly painful in every respect imaginable, but even though we are not quite there yet, it’s an incredible ride and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” says Hakes.