By Claire Rogers
The Dominion Post, Monday May 30, 2011.
What started as a one-off contract more than 10 years ago has mushroomed into
a multimillion-dollar export business for Wellington's Superstructure Group.
The company, which has aviation customers all over the world, was a finalist
in the export category at this month's Wellington Gold Awards.
Its AQD software, born from a system developed for the Civil Aviation
Authority, helps customers ensure their compliance with safety processes, assess
risk, record and report incidents, and conduct audits, says chief executive Ted
Thomas. It can also be integrated with operators' flight data monitoring systems
to help them investigate incidents.
The 23-person company is held by a British firm that is 90 per cent owned by
New Zealanders. It has offices in Wellington and London and a turnover of about
Four or five years ago Superstructure had about 30 customers.
"Now we have over 100 customers and we are the No1 supplier of safety,
quality and risk-management solutions to the aviation industry," Mr Thomas says.
Superstructure's client list includes Air New Zealand, Qantas, Cathay
Pacific, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, LAN Chile and Saudi Arabian Airlines,
airports, regulators and air traffic controllers.
The sector is a dynamic one. Carriers are consolidating and going in and out
of business, and international travel has felt the impact of the global
financial crisis, volcanic eruptions and health scares such as severe acute
respiratory syndrome (SARS).
But long-term trends augur well for Superstructure, Mr Thomas says. "We're
faced with huge increases in air traffic in the next 20 years, primarily driven
out of countries like China and India."
The rise of lower-cost carriers has been a boost for the business because
those carriers are keen to ensure they are not seen to compromise on safety.
Also, operators in developing countries are looking to automate more of their
safety processes and integrate safety applications into their wider enterprise
systems, and a strong emphasis on good governance since the corporate scandals
of the early 2000s has seen boards focus on improving safety, risk and audit
The company could expand into other transport industries (it has a railway
customer in Australia), as well as other safety-conscious sectors, such as
pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, energy and health.
"If you get down to simple processes they are all the same: they involve
people and equipment and technology."
Superstructure is moving to a "software as a service" model, which will see
customers subscribe to access its software over the web rather than host the
software internally. That move will lower the cost of support and allow
Superstructure to tweak and upgrade the software more easily, and to sell it to
smaller clients and new, foreign-language markets such as China.