5 questions with FlightAware’s Daniel Baker

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FlightAware provides live flight data, airport delays, fuel prices, airline operational tools, weather maps, flight planning, flight routes, oceanic tracks, and navigation charts, as well as aviation news and photos to over ten million users a month via the FlightAware.com web site and mobile apps. InsureMyTrip wanted to learn more about FlightAware and asked CEO Daniel Baker five questions about this tool.

FlightAware offers real time tracking on flights

InsureMyTrip: How did the idea for FlightAware happen?

Baker: I’m a computer programmer and also have an FAA commercial pilot certificate (license). In 2004, I was flying around Texas a lot in for fun in a small single-engine Cessna and found it frustrating that friends and family couldn’t track my flights. I frequently flew between Austin and Houston, for example, and despite flying the same routes and to/from the same runways as Southwest Airlines, the flight tracking of my flights wasn’t readily available. I reached out to some commercial vendors at the time that offered solutions, but they wanted over $1,000/mo per user – certainly that’s not a realistic solution for my parents or my buddy picking me up at the airport.

I worked with the FAA to receive their flight plan and position data with the goal of having a transparent web interface for pilots like myself. Within days of releasing FlightAware in 2005, we had thousands of users – more than I ever anticipated! I was excited by the interest from the private aviation community, but I was under the impression that for commercial aviation, great solutions were already available.

However, it turned out that none of the legacy vendors were innovating when it came to flight tracking for commercial aviation; I quickly began receiving phone calls from companies who wanted an innovative interface and access to our expanding set of data sources to help improve their flight operations.

It didn’t take long before I realized I had a business on my hands, so I began hiring and developing a business. By focusing on creating a simple, yet powerful and comprehensive web interface with a willingness to seek endless data sources, we created a commercial success. Ten years later, we are the largest provider of flight tracking in the world to private aviation, airlines, and consumers/travelers.

InsureMyTrip: Are you surprised with the overwhelming response? 

Baker: The Internet and tracking of everything (pizzas, Uber, “find my friends,” etc.) has really increased the public’s demand for tracking – including flights. This has led not only to far more usage than I ever anticipated, but significantly increased cooperation from governments and aviation businesses that want to participate in our tracking network.

Beyond passengers and their families, I’ve been amazed at the number of people that use our data for a commercial reason as part of supporting a flight’s operations. Of course, we have airlines using it, but also catering companies, insurance companies, airports, ground transportation, the crew meeting a plane to fly the next leg, and even the company providing the in-flight entertainment that is trying to have a mechanic meet the flight to fix the seat-back display in 42B.

InsureMyTrip: What features interest you the most about FlightAware?

Baker: I like that there’s no single definitive source for the whereabouts of a plane or where it’s going, so it’s up to us to get as many data sources as possible and draw the best conclusion from that data. In many cases, we’re looking at 5-10 data sources to figure out where a plane is and it took us the better part of a decade to get all those data sources and develop the technology to fuse the data together. It wouldn’t be as fun as if we were just relaying data verbatim from the airline.

InsureMyTrip: When do you tend to get the most traffic/interest in your website?

Baker: Although we have a huge market share in private aviation, it’s a pretty small market compared to consumers tracking airline flights, which is the biggest source of traffic to FlightAware. What’s interesting is that despite being very US-centric for years, we’ve grown internationally and now a minority of our ten million users are from the US. The international user base is growing much, much faster.

InsureMyTrip: What’s next for the company?

Baker: We’ve realized that flight tracking is largely reporting the past – we’re figuring out what happened and displaying that in various forms. Although we’ve had a huge impact on the industry and consumers doing that, I think there’s even more value in being able to predict the future. We’re working on being able to predict airport congestion before it happens, predict cancellations at an airport, predict flight delays, and better predict arrival times.

To learn more about FlightAware, visit http://www.flightaware.com

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