First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Muharrem Mane: We are grateful for our health and ability to continue work and schooling during these times. While nothing looks the same as it did last year at this time, we are lucky that our family and those around us are healthy and able to continue our life in this new way.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded PlaneEnglish.
Muharrem Mane: I am an aerospace engineer and have spent the last decade as a policy analyst, evaluating and assessing new aircraft capabilities.
We (the founders of PlaneEnglish) are all private pilots. While going through flight training, we noticed the lack of a tool that would enable us to practice the key aviation skill of radio communication. In my own experience, when I first started flying, my instructor would not let me use the radio for the first few hours of flying, and the only advice and training I received about talking on the radio was “say this…” I was just expected to pick this skill up in the air. Resources available to me were only manuals that described the phraseology, websites that let you listen to other pilots talk on the radio, tuning in to the local airport frequency, and listening to other pilots talk on the radio. This lack of active learning and lack of accessible means of training for radio comms spurred us to develop it ourselves. A lot of research into aviation phraseology, radiotelephony, and the search for a partner with the development know-how, followed. After one year of development work, we released the first version of the Aviation Radio Simulator (ARSim) for the Android mobile platform in 2019. About one year later, the iOS followed.
How does PlaneEnglish innovate?
Muharrem Mane: At PlaneEnglish, we are developing interactive training tools that maximize the functionality, flexibility, and accessibility of mobile devices and implement a task-based training methodology for skill acquisition. Our goal is to provide the aviation industry with a new, accessible, and effective way to train.
ARSim is the first such training tool that we developed. It is the only tool of its kind in the marketplace that provides pilots with an interactive means to train in aviation radio communications, on their own time and at their own pace, with instantaneous feedback.
Users practice making all the radio calls, and listening to Air Traffic Control (ATC) give instructions and clearances. Users use visual cues and information from the prompt to put together the correct information in the correct phraseology and transmit that by talking on the mic. Once ATC gives instructions and clearances, they get to transmit the readback.
Users receive immediate feedback on their speech accuracy, speech rate, pauses, and fillers and can use this information to improve their proficiency. This information helps them to correct their mistakes and try again to improve their scores and proficiency.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Muharrem Mane: As everyone is aware, the pandemic has had a great effect on the economy in general, and the aviation industry in particular. With contraction in operations by many airlines, the rush to train new pilots to fill the global pilot shortage has definitely slowed down. At least for the moment, the demand for commercial pilots has been greatly reduced, which means that the demand for pilot training has also decreased. We do not see the demand that we had anticipated a year ago.
Aspiring pilots are still flying or training, however, even if in lesser numbers, which has enabled us to continue our work and continue improving, developing, and supporting our product.
On the other hand, ARSim is designed as a tool to enable pilots to train in aviation radio communications outside of the cockpit. Not being able to fly has resulted in a greater need for our product by those pilots who are grounded at the moment, but still want to train or maintain their skills sharp. We saw a reflection of this back in March and April when we saw a significant jump in users when we provided everyone free full access to ARSim for one month. Demand has continued to be steady, given the low cost, accessible nature of the product. As the pilot training landscape continues to change, we hope to be right alongside with effective and accessible training tools.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Muharrem Mane: Difficult choices come up every day! From deciding and planning the next steps that will enable us to continue our work in identifying and recruiting the right people to join the team. Perhaps one of the most impactful choices has been deciding what type of service and product we want to provide to the aviation community. There is a tendency to try and do everything, but identifying the correct bounds of what we should do, and do it well, is always a challenge. I think the biggest lesson learned over the past few years is if you want to work hard and commit to being flexible, there is a place for you in business.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and PlaneEnglish in the future?
Muharrem Mane: Stress is ever-present in a new company. I believe that managing expectations, my own as well as those around me, is key to controlling the stress and not letting it impact daily decision making. Realizing that quality efforts take time and identifying incremental achievements is a must for staying the course.
We are actively adapting the current tools beyond pilot training and toward the training of air traffic controllers, ground personnel, and anyone in the aviation industry that must follow checklists, procedures, and communicate as part of their job. Our goal is to be a leading provider of interactive training in the aviation industry.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Muharrem Mane: There are other companies in the aviation industry that provide training or exposure to aviation radio communication, but we have a unique product and a unique way of delivering training that makes us stand out. Our combination of flexibility, accessibility, training approach, and innovative technology gives us an edge. We strive to maintain that edge as everything around us changes. We continue to develop new capabilities, continue to improve the current product and continue to listen to our customers, and be responsive to their needs. There will always be a need for intelligent products designed with the user goals in mind, so we plan to continue to grow with this flexibility in mind.
Your final thoughts?
Muharrem Mane: The experience of the pandemic has further solidified our belief in the combination of hard work, flexibility, customer need as a recipe for success. With this in mind, we will continue working to provide the aviation industry with new, accessible, and effective ways to train.
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