TracPlus was founded in 2007 following a response to an emergency event. In May 2003, off the coast of North Otago, a small fishing vessel carrying five friends capsized when strong waves overcame them. Sadly, although their emergency beacon was activated, a record-keeping error at the national search and rescue headquarters meant a rescue aircraft from Invercargill was dispatched instead of a helicopter, less than 20 minutes away. When the rescue team did arrive, three of the men had passed away due to hypothermia.
The initial ethos of TracPlus was to ensure multiple parties involved in search and rescue were able to collaboratively work together through a single view of key data sources, one of which is asset location. This approach meant that it started from a ‘software-first’ and device-agnostic approach.
“Our founding principles and solutions have always resonated well in the first responder community. The vast majority of our customers are household names. We proudly work with over 1,000 of these clients servicing over 40 countries globally,” said McIntyre.
Significant growth potential
There are five key sectors that TracPlus supports: medical / rescue, firefighting, military, utilities and (at-risk) employees and assets. The company has seen significant growth across all these first responder communities and finds in many markets that aviation operators tend to be ‘mixed-fleet’, in that they service a number of these sectors in addition to their normal commercial operators.
There has been a significant increase in the demands placed upon these operators. Fires, adverse weather events, global pandemics and the impact of global warming are creating a significant increase in demand for these operators. For example, aviation customers in firefighting are seeing an end to the traditional fire season in each hemisphere, with longer seasons and catastrophic fires.
aviation customers in firefighting are seeing an end to the traditional fire season in each hemisphere, with longer seasons and catastrophic fires
The recent Australian bushfires, the forest fires in the Amazon and the wildfires in California over the past few years are all examples of where firefighting efforts need to be ramped up in response to natural disasters.
The only truly effective mechanism to address many of these situations will continue to be via aviation assets. McIntyre commented: “We see enhanced opportunities for operators who work in these sectors. Data and intelligence linked to these opportunities will become increasingly important. TracPlus acts as an integrator for numerous government agencies who are demanding additional data sharing from operators.”
The current pandemic situation presents challenges for the whole world. TracPlus was concerned in mid-February that there was a potential for the market to change rapidly and dramatically and had already cut back on non-essential travel and rapidly implemented many digital tools across the entire organisation to ensure that staff could operate efficiently anywhere at any time to support and service customers. Measures taken included:
- The deployment of additional Support Team members to increase coverage to assist with any needs customers might have.
- Providing the first line of escalation in emergencies at no additional cost to customers, reducing the burden and workload for remote working teams (more information on this service can be found here: https://www.tracplus.com/product/features/distress-notifications-and-es…).
- U1 is on track for early migration to provide additional scalability, enhanced security and additional monitoring features to customers.
- Training support via webinar, YouTube and video call for new and existing services.
- Additional Remote Worker Solutions availability to ensure that teams are safe during these times.
In addition to the above, TracPlus will be looking to deliver additional intelligence to the market, and adapting its business model away from a hardware upfront business model favoured by traditional tech companies to a lease-based approach, so that customers can spend on services and solutions as they earn, rather than significant amounts of spend upfront in times when capital is constricted.
“For existing customers, we are utilising the opportunity to migrate customers to our new platform, provide additional training and upskill in our product sets to ensure they can gain the maximum benefit to enhance their operations and gain the best operational effectiveness from our solutions,” McIntyre told AirMed&Rescue.
As CEO, McIntyre’s role is to ensure that as a company, TracPlus positions itself to deliver innovation and service to the market that help customers gain and sustain a competitive advantage throughout the events to which they respond. “We are positioning ourselves to deliver more of the value chain to our customers,” he explained. “We are working on a series of relationships, partnerships and internal development that delivers additional data to customers in a format that provides customers with real-time intelligence, and we will be announcing more of this over the next six to 12 months or so.
“In addition, we are pushing into more areas of our customers’ needs. For example, we are relatively well known in the aviation side of our customers’ businesses. Less well known is that we have genuinely world-class solutions for our customers for remote workers, vehicles, drones and maritime-based assets.”
McIntyre has a simple ambition: to meet as much of the customers’ demand as possible. To do this, TracPlus is investing heavily in R&D capacity, as well as in its support and commercial channels too.
Bringing old and new together
TracPlus has a range of solutions that are ‘plug-and-play’. These devices are covered under DO160G documentation, meaning that they can be viewed as carry-on-carry-off gear. This means full backwards compatibility for operators with older aircraft. No aircraft is too old to be covered.
TracPlus products utilise low energy Bluetooth capabilities to connect aircraft directly to a smartphone or tablet to deliver a modern infrastructure no matter the age of a fleet
In addition to standard measures around situational awareness, TracPlus supports a range of measures (again, irrespective of the age of the aircraft), that means that it can support virtually any reporting requirement or contractual requirement that a customer might have – take-off or landing data, engine on and off and a range of other signal types.
TracPlus products utilise low energy Bluetooth capabilities to connect aircraft directly to a smartphone or tablet to deliver a modern infrastructure no matter the age of a fleet, where it is operating, or what data type the crew are attempting to deliver.
“In addition,” said McIntyre, “we support multiple signal types to deliver the operational data in a cost-effective manner. Our customers are saving up to 60 per cent on their ongoing operating costs versus single signal satellite only devices with up to eight-times-greater visibility.”
Collaboration in asset management
TracPlus offers its platform as a service for a number of first responders, fire organizations, military customers and utility customers globally, connecting multiple agencies, private operators and volunteers irrespective of signal type, tracking the provider or language that they operate in. The software can be integrated directly into each agency’s core operating systems and can cover not just traditional aviation, but also drones, ground-based assets like people and vehicles, and maritime assets.
McIntyre explained: “We have slightly different implementations for each of our core customer types. For example, for utility companies, firefighting agencies, medical and rescue operators and remote workers, our core platform U1 is a cloud-based infrastructure that provides a single view of the truth for operators.”
For government agencies, TracPlus has a private client-based implementation of the cloud-based U1 platform called Iron Vault
For government agencies, TracPlus has a private client-based implementation of the cloud-based U1 platform called Iron Vault. This platform is utilized by military customers and those with a need for data to be retained in their infrastructure.”
For operators like CareFlight in Australia, working in remote areas and high-risk situations, mission-effectiveness is key to their outcomes, especially when lives are at stake. TracPlus offers a safety net to its customers, as their location is known. In any emergency situation, knowing the location of a crew makes up the difference between life or death if emergency support is required at a scene.
“Our messaging and communication features also allow customers to communicate to and from any asset, comms centre or to those who matter – reliable communication is vital,” the company said.
On top of tracking and messaging, co-ordination is at the heart of what TracPlus offers. In mission-critical work, it’s vital that the right people are tasked to a job. TracPlus allows operators to have a simple view of all of their assets and people on a single screen, ensuring superior deployment. TracPlus offers complete fleet situational awareness that is not just limited to an asset type. Customers can integrate the location of air, sea, and ground-based assets into TracPlus, which is key for organizations who have mixed assets or contractors.
Operators who work in remote areas also face a unique challenge in that they can often be working in areas that have no cellular reception. It’s therefore imperative that they can rely on a tracking and communication system, which keeps their team safe and accounted for. McIntyre commented: “Our reliable satellite tracking and communication solutions ensure your team are always in reach, regardless of location. Their location will be known, and they can be sure that they can communicate with their wider team when required. This gives the organization and its staff peace of mind.” TracPlus ensures company-wide transparency — everyone knows where their aircraft, staff and resources are headed, so they can respond if the team run into any challenges along the way.
“TracPlus has given us the ability to have operational control very accurately, and consistently over many years now. Without TracPlus, we wouldn’t be able to achieve operational control,” said Brian Guthrie, Chief Operations Officer for Lifeflight.
The bushfires in Australia late in 2019 and early this year were shocking in their scale and ferocity, and they brought with them new challenges for aerial firefighters to respond to quickly and in a co-ordinated way. The National Aerial Firefighting Center (NAFC) is responsible for the co-ordination of airborne firefighting contracts. This means 500 aircraft, 150 operators, six states, two territories and 19 agencies. Tracking providers is one of TracPlus’s better-known implementations of its One Platform Solution.
Our software is used to integrate tracking and communication data from all aviation tracking providers who provide services to NAFC
McIntyre said: “Our software is used to integrate tracking and communication data from all aviation tracking providers who provide services to NAFC.
Working with TracPlus allowed NAFC to achieve a national tracking standard independent of hardware, software and tracking provider, with little or no capital expenditure.”
Throughout the season, operators were flying in from around the country and the world. Even if they were not using TracPlus’s tracking devices, they still appeared on its system within hours of the aircraft arriving into Australia, minimizing downtime and optimizing their flight times. “We managed this seamlessly through our teams, NAFC and the aircraft provider,” said McIntyre.
This year more than ever in Australia, aviation-based firefighting was key in the management and containment of the fires and will continue to be part of combating these unbelievable natural disasters. With climate change, this could almost become the new norm. Further collaboration and visibility between ground- and air-based assets will become more critical in the future of firefighting, and TracPlus’ platform has been designed to facilitate the additional key information sharing between ground- and air-based assets.
Challenges and opportunities
TracPlus sees the following elements becoming even more important for customers in these arenas:
- Increased interoperability requirements between aviation and other ground-based asset types.
- Increased data flows and the challenges that come with handling these big data types as the number and type of signals expand with developments in mesh technology and cube satellites proliferate.
- Significantly increasing severity of natural disasters and the need for multiple agencies to collaborate. This includes the military increasingly becoming a provider of first responder services.
- Greater cross-border collaboration. A single reliable data set in a common format becomes even more important.
- Additional aircraft requirements in firefighting. Traditionally, Northern and Southern Hemisphere aerial firefighting operators have shipped aircraft between the hemispheres to meet the needs of the fire seasons. With the expansion of the traditional fire seasons, it will no longer become feasible to do so.
- A proliferation of additional asset types like drones sharing common airspace.
- Legislative changes – like the Dingle Act in the US – requiring the tracking of all wildfire-fighting firefighters.
- With increased government expenditure in firefighting, operators will be forced to provide further additional and accurate reporting regarding their aerial firefighting missions to ensure compensation for their flight hours.
McIntyre concluded: “Our view is that it is likely to be a case of more being required by customers to meet the changing environment. The impact on technology will be reflected in this.
We are developing our technology roadmap in such a way as to future proof our customers’ investments by creating a product set that scales automatically as their needs scale
We are developing our technology roadmap in such a way as to future proof our customers’ investments by creating a product set that scales automatically as their needs scale.”
Key product elements in the future will include:
- Interoperability (all systems NEED to work together).
- Common data sets and reliable identification mechanisms for data anomalies, big data architectures that can scale infinitely to handle the significant data uplift.
- Artificial Intelligence tools to assist in turning data into real time meaningful insights.
- Harnessing multiple signal types to enable the cost-effective servicing of the legislative requirements (e.g. radio, cellular and satellite with auto-switching).
- The commoditization of hardware or hardware as a service.
TracPlus is investing significantly in all these areas to deliver simple, elegant solutions that scale with customers’ needs. “We take what we do very seriously and gain great pleasure from helping our customers achieve their goals as effectively as possible,” said McIntyre, adding: “Although times are difficult currently, we believe that our customers stand at the forefront of a bright future. We will engineer our company and the solutions that we offer to stand alongside them in defining and creating this future.”