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ESA BIC Companies Using Space Technologies in the Aviation Sector

The aviation and space industries are traditionally interconnected, standing out due to their high innovation potential and the diversity of the technologies they employ. For companies that are new to these business areas, however, breaking into the market often requires a great deal of effort. It is thus even more noteworthy that more and more incubatees from ESA BIC Bavaria are successfully establishing themselves in the aviation sector as providers of innovative technologies, products, and services. The first ESA BIC companies presented their products and services at this year's ILA Berlin Air Show, which has opened its doors to an international audience and covered the newest developments and trends in the aerospace industry from 11 to 16 September.

The start-ups from ESA BIC Bavaria are making use of new findings derived from space research and providing innovative solutions based on satellite navigation, satellite communication, and Earth observation. The success of ESA BIC Bavaria's companies in gaining access to the aviation sector is impressively demonstrated by their expanding list of well-known industry partners, such as Airbus, Thales, and Lufthansa (to name just a few). Their recipe for success in cooperating with leading aviation companies is based on two main components: the benefits the start-ups gain from the incubation programme, branding, and network of the ESA BIC, and their proximity to the German Aerospace Center (DLR). They can also count on support from their fellow incubatees.

In addition, projects spanning multiple locations - the European aerospace hotbeds Munich and Toulouse, for example - are giving ESA BIC Bavaria's incubatees the chance to engage in promising potential cooperations. The Oberpfaffenhofen start-up Atmosphere GmbH, for example, is partnering with former DLR spin-off TriaGnoSys GmbH and Airbus Toulouse in the area of floating weather data. Atmosphere's solution PLANET - an in-flight, satellite-based weather service - has been installed on Airbus A380 test aircraft (MSN4) for an initial evaluation with respect to the needs of Airbus's flight-testing department. The PLANET terminal has been specifically customised to use the A380's existing Inmarsat SBB installation. Successful tests have been performed on the ground and in the air.

ViaLight Communications GmbH (VLC), meanwhile, serves as another example that innovative high-tech companies have great opportunities and a promising growth outlook in the aviation sector. VLC develops and produces high-rate laser communication systems for airborne applications. "Our time at the ESA Business Incubation Centre near Munich gave us the right environment in which to grow our company during its first two years and to take our first steps in the commercialisation of laser communication," states Markus Knapek, CEO of VLC. "It also helped us build up a network of partners, customers, specialists, and supporting consultants. Particularly important for VLC was and is our proximity to DLR, as the research institute continues to be a key partner in our development of great solutions we can use for our future laser communication systems." At the aforementioned ILA Berlin Air Show, the company is presenting its new miniaturised laser terminal MLT-20, which was developed specifically for smaller flight platforms (UAVs, for instance).

Also demonstrating how to make innovative use of space technology in aviation is TANKERING.com GmbH, which has developed a software tool that uses a patented method to calculate fuel tankering and flight performance optimisation for commercial aircraft operators. The method determines optimal amounts of extra fuel as a function of fuel price differentials, the distance between airports, weather, aircraft performance, aircraft limitations, and traffic load. "In spite of the obvious advantages to the customer, the market has been reluctant to adapt the new technology, and commercial progress has been slower than expected," states Tore Reimers from TANKERING.com. "On the other hand, the statistics are very encouraging: We've confirmed fuel cost reductions between two and four per cent for medium-size airlines and between three and seven per cent for business jet operators."

These companies and the other ESA BIC incubatees in this sector - ANAVS GmbH and avionTek GmbH, as well as their products - indicate the high potential innovative high-tech start-ups have in aviation. Due to its proximity to the aviation industry in the greater Munich area and its well established network of research and industry partners, ESA BIC Bavaria provides a promising growth opportunity to the companies it incubates.