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Leveraging synergies with PASCO

Fred Hagman
Managing Director, Aerodata International Surveys

In conversation with Geospatial Media, Fred Hagman talks about the company”s expansion plans, innovative solutions and leveraging synergies with PASCO.

Can you tell us about products and services provided by Aerodata?
At Aerodata, our main focus is data collection. At the moment, we are operating a fleet of nine aircrafts with different types of engines – both piston and turbine engines, pressurised and non-pressurised. These aircrafts are equipped with several sensors. We have laser scanners, digital frame cameras, digital sweeping cameras, telephoto lenses, wide angle lenses, different types of laser scanners for high-density point clouds and low density point clouds and thermal sensors for data collection. The company also adds value to its products by providing digital terrain models, ortho-photos, ortho-photo mosaic, feature extraction, LiDAR DTM and LiDAR classifications.

We use our PASCO group of companies when there is a need for large scale base mapping. The company is involved in feature collection and we use our stereo models to develop a large scale base map. We are not an engineering company. We do not provide all kinds of sound propagation, studies or things that have to do with telecom. We provide data which other companies use for GIS applications.

Which are the verticals and segments that Aerodata caters to?
The main customers for our services are the government organisations at the national, regional and municipality levels. There are many other industries like oil and gas which utilise geospatial data. Though oil and gas industries largely rely on satellite imagery, in some cases they use aerial data as well. For example, if they want to explore a new area for oil and gas drilling, they need to explore the road network. For this, they require digital terrain models and aerial overview of that area. For an in-depth detail, satellite imagery is not enough. Therefore, aerial data becomes necessary. Oil and gas industries require aerial data for making large scale base maps of a certain plant while planning a new pipeline trajectory in that area.

Insurance companies and banks have also started using GIS technologies. As a content provider of GIS, companies can rely on our data. Insurance companies can use such data for analysing risks. Real estate companies can use this data for property management. They can identify the nature of the area where property is located, the location of niche residential area, shops, parks, playground for children etc.

Does Aerodata provide only raw data to its customers or it also adds some valuable information?
We don’t provide raw data which directly comes from sensors in aircrafts. Our ortho-photo mosaic is a value added product as it can directly be put into a GIS database. It is ortho-rectified and therefore geo-referenced. A digital terrain model is also a value added product.

Aerodata survey aircraft fleet

Tell us something about the thermal mobile mapping system which has been released in collaboration with France-based ITC.
The system is designed to survey building facades by driving a car with an on-board thermal camera at normal traffic speed. The airborne system displays a unique view on heat losses from building roofs, representing about 1/3 of the total heat loss of a building. Facades which may represent up to 30-50 percent of losses can now also be added from a ground survey to this product. It is a unique product which we are trying to commercialise. So, far we have only done some pilot projects with this system.

Are you exploring demand for this unique product?
Yes, we are. After developing the product we are identifying the market for it. Based on client responses we will fix the product so that it can cater to the needs of our clients. Monitoring energy loss has become a political agenda for many countries these days. Thermal projects like these are being carried out, throughout the year, in countries like Belgium, Holland, France and UK.

In which countries does Aerodata primarily operate?
Our major presence is in Western Europe. We have projects in Scandinavia, Belgium, Netherlands, UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. We do not operate much in the Eastern European countries. We have done projects in Northern Africa, West and Central Africa. Normally, we don’t venture into Southern Hemisphere. We have done projects in Nigeria, Gambia, Libya, Morocco and in some Middle East countries.

How is the demand for such data products in emerging countries?
We are actively prospecting on this front. We are sending a small delegation of people in emerging countries. We are monitoring the demand via public channels like publication of tenders. We are building up a network especially in these areas and are working with some agents who can show us possibilities and opportunities in these countries. If the market demand is more for satellite than aerial, we propose to offer both the services. We are trying to build also more satellite services with the help of PASCO, as it very much experienced in satellite business. We have learned a lot from them and are working to apply those technologies in our area.

How has the acquisition by PASCO benefited Aerodata?
The acquisition has created an internal market for us. There are many PASCO projects all over the world in which we have participated, for instance projects in Bangladesh. Under this project we provided training to the people of Survey of Bangladesh. We are also involved in projects in Saudi Arabia and we are working in Scandinavia with Finnmap.

PASCO is a leading aerial survey company. Do you think that these two companies, having similar products, are competing against each other?
We are definitely not competing against each other. On the contrary, we are trying to find mutual solutions. If there is something which we do better than PASCO, we share the knowledge with them and vice-versa. We are learning a lot from each other. We are trying to apply technology and applications wherever we can because it is about finding synergies in our business. The main objective of the international division of PASCO is to know and explore each other.

What kinds of synergies you find in your parent company?
One of them is sharing equipment, we are using LiDAR for instance, at multiple locations. We are using our digital aerial cameras at multiple locations. We can shift them around the globe depending on the amount of work.

Is there sharing in terms of capacity?
Yes, for instance, at the moment, we need more capacity in Western Europe than in Japan or Finland or the US. We can ship the systems to another part of the world where they can be utilised effectively and would generate competitive rates which can give us more business.

Are there any technical capabilities in synergy?
We are trying to build on that front. Recently, a Japanese colleague introduced us to a new technology, Heliborne system. It is a camera system which can be mounted on a helicopter. It can show the exact coordinates of the location that you are looking at. It is able to obtain information on the location of the subject while taking the photograph. This is something new and I want to share this knowledge with the people of our R&D department in Antwerp so that we can also start thinking about possible applications of this system that was developed for a tsunami damage inventory in Japan. In this sense, we are trying to share technologies and applications. We made use of this conference to organise an internal conference, whereby PASCO Group companies from countries like Japan, Brazil, USA, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Finland got together.

What are the future plans in terms of improving technical capabilities and geographical reach of Aerodata service?
We are thinking of expanding our presence in Eastern Europe. However, we are still considering if we will do that as Aerodata or work with partner companies. Because, outside the PASCO Group, we are members of the geospatial family, we know a lot of companies and people. We also have regular cooperation with companies from outside the PASCO Group.
We also want to be more active in Africa. We think we can seize some opportunities in this region.

How is the business faring in the backdrop of economic blues all over Eurozone?
It could be better; actually, we did not notice much of the economic downturn in 2008 or 2009. In 2011, we noticed that some projects were delayed or taken out of the markets due to fierce competition between aerial survey companies. It is not easy, but the good thing is that we have a good group of people who makes us operational in the air. We know how to seize opportunities where other companies might not be able to. So, we have very high rate of efficiency in our aerial operation and data processing. In this sense, we can cope up with the economic situation. But of course, I hope that the situation will improve in the coming years which will make life a bit easier.