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Radiola's innovative service is based on a product from Kansas

Brent Albiston loves flying so much he keeps an aircraft at Paraparaumu airport so he can get up in the clouds when he feels like it. He was chief money man at AWA back in the 1980s, so he knows a thing or two about technology.

These days he's head honcho at Radiola Aerospace, a Porirua-based company with a jaw-dropping modus operandi. Radiola does flight calibration. That means they'll go to an airport, fly a plane around and about, checking to see if the airport's navigational aids actually do what they are supposed to do. Flight calibration ensures that when a plane makes an instrument landing, the pilots have a fair chance of finding the runway where the instruments tell them it should be.

The astounding thing about Radiola's MO is not so much what they do, but where they do it. Like, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh. The sort of places where you can't expect to just go down to the shop and buy yourself an oscilloscope or a tin of aviation gas. Whatever you need, you bring with you. And then you have to make sure it doesn't get nicked.

Radiola operates from an office in Porirua, but most of its staff are based overseas. Flight calibration in New Zealand is a government-owned monopoly. Private operators like Radiola Aerospace don't get a look in.

As a service provider, Radiola has a lot of money invested in certifications and staff training. According to Brent, Radiola spent more than three hundred grand getting itself certified for flight calibration services. On top of that, it has hundreds of thousands invested in flight calibration equipment and staff training. That's an enormous investment for a small company that is entirely owned by its thirteen employees. Brent grinned when he said Radiola Aerospace has never borrowed money from the bank.

Calibrating airport nav aids requires a specially-equipped aircraft. The flight inspector has to be able to independently verify, with a high degree of precision, that the aircraft is where the airport's navigation aids say it is. Radiola Aerospace pioneered the use of portable flight calibration equipment. That's how they can make a profit while undercutting competitors, especially in remote, underdeveloped locations like Afghanistan. That's how they can make it possible for airports in underdeveloped countries to have properly-calibrated navigation aids. Radiola's flight calibration gear clips to an aircraft's seat rails. To set up an aircraft, they take out one passenger seat, clip their gear in place of the seat, hook up the antennas, and they're ready to go.

Mostly, in remote locations, they work with a company that charters Diamonds. Diamond aircraft are cheap to operate, and highly reliable, qualities that are important when you have to fly the aircraft to some of the places they work in. The Diamonds have diesel engines designed to run on aviation kerosene (jet fuel), which is available anywhere there are planes, whereas aviation gasoline for other piston-engined planes is impossible to get in some parts of the world. Nothing's ever that simple, of course. Diamond's are built from plastic composite, so you can't just drill a few holes here and there for antenna mountings and cables. Every time Radiola set up an aircraft to take their portable flight calibration gear, the plane has to go back to the factory (in Austria) where the manufacturer very obligingly installs all the necessary antennas and cables for the very reasonable price of thirty grand. (Yup! That's thirty European grand.)

Radiola is boosting New Zealand's economic growth, because it is bringing salaries and profits into the New Zealand economy. That cash comes from a highly innovative service. They are the kind of innovators Technology Valley wants to encourage, boosting not only New Zealand growth, but global growth as well. A lot of people in underdeveloped countries can thank Radiola for being able to enjoy contemporary standards of aviation safety. The interesting point is that Radiola's service is built on a highly innovative, well-engineered product made by a company in Kansas. Radiola Aerospace pioneered the use of that product, so they had a lot of input into its development. But, the product is the key. Without that, there'd be no portable flight calibration, and Brent Albiston would be doing something different. No doubt, given his enthusiasm for technology, it would be interesting and innovative.

The product is key. That's why manufacturing is absolutely vital.


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Parametric Modelling Consultant who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your requirements: hello {a}

Radiola's innovative services are based on a product from Kansas

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