Monarc Global has harnessed the power of AI to provide instant and accurate charter flight costs, opening up new markets and applications for aircraft operators, their cargo and passengers.
It may seem counterintuitive that a company servicing the airline industry would grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. But that is precisely the experience of Monarc Global.
A technology company that provides AI-generated information around flight pricing and availability, found itself with a ready market as the demand for air freight and charter flights exploded, while commercial airlines shut down.
As the pandemic closed borders and aircraft filled with boxes of online orders rather than people, the nature of airline travel shifted on its axis, moving away from a scheduled system dictated by passenger timetables to a needs-based operation.
Whether it was fulfilling medical orders for masks and rapid antigen tests, transporting consumer goods or repatriating Australian citizens, Monarc Global’s technology helped facilitate it.
Initially designed for the private charter industry, its automated pricing engine Travech was in hot demand from operators coordinating transport using private aircraft, as well as commercial airlines co-opted for the cargo sector.
It was a scenario that saw a Monarc Global grow more than 6000 per cent between 2019 and 2021 and named Australia’s fastest-growing tech company at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 awards.
And while fuelled partly by the pandemic, it was significantly aided by a $487,000 Accelerating Commercialisation grant awarded as part of the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme.
By meeting regular KPIs, the funding, delivered over quarterly instalments, not only helped Monarc Global meet its technological targets but also provided financial security. This freed-up founder and CEO Royce Crown to focus on sales and marketing to capitalise on the new possibilities and markets the pandemic presented.
“We were able to showcase over the pandemic that supply chains didn’t need to be disrupted and passenger airlines could keep operating by transporting cargo,” says Crown. “And our software was pivotal in connecting supply with demand in real time.”
Answering cost questions
The Travech platform calculates the cost of any given flight around the world using an AI model that takes in the many variables around airline travel.
Crown says these “question marks in the air” hinge around weather data – and, in particular, wind speed – that impacts fuel consumption (the key determinant in flight costs) depending on altitude, aircraft type, model and load.
Add other variables – such as an individual country’s airspace taxes and varying fuel costs between airports – and powerful machine-learning software is required to crunch the data and come up with accurate price, often well in advance of when the flight is required.
“There’s a reason why many people have attempted this and nobody has really conquered it until now,” Crown says. “Because it is difficult. But we’re very stubborn as a business, and we like a challenge.”
Full management software for the non-scheduled sector, Travech, provides aircraft operators and third parties such as charter brokers, travel agents, government entities and individuals with accurate data on flight costs and availability on demand.
For suppliers, knowing the actual cost of running a flight in advance provides the ability to work-in reliable margins, providing a competitive advantage, Crown says. On the demand side, the technology gives travel agents guaranteed pricing and availability to showcase to customers. “Until now, that’s never existed,” he says. “So that’s where we fill the gap.”
Beyond personal travel, the technology also works as an invaluable planning tool, providing real-time data on price as well as aircraft and pilot availability for government entities and hospitals involved in, for example, medevac, organ transport or natural disaster relief.
“It has the ability to connect multiple operators and their aircraft to third parties who require that information in real time,” says Crown, himself a commercial helicopter pilot who helped in the Black Summer firefighting effort from the air.
“In the recent Queensland floods, we were in the air providing supplies even before the SES (State Emergency Service) was on the scene. And that is because we have the capability to mobilise aircraft almost immediately. It’s just one of those things that only technology such as our software can provide.”
Meeting market need
The idea for Monarc Global was grown through a 2017/18 accelerator program at River City Labs where Crown, a charter flight broker but self-confessed “non-tech guy”, met technology developer and aviation specialist Cameron Deane, who built the Travech platform and is the company’s Chief Technology Officer.
A round of angel investment helped launch the business before they applied for an Accelerating Commercialisation funding. They were paired with i4 Connect facilitator Larry Weng who had previously worked with University of Queensland’s commercialisation arm UniQuest.
Crown says he had confidence Weng would guide them successfully through the rigorous Accelerating Commercialisation grant application process from the first time they met. “He genuinely wanted to know about the business and took the stress out of the process,” he says.
Weng has found it easy to work with Crown and his team because the team was passionately behind their clear vision for the unique Travech product that was inspired by Crown’s insight as both a pilot and broker.
Experiencing firsthand the difficulty in organising charter fights for clients via email and phone calls to multiple operators, Crown identified an opportunity based on genuine need.
“There was no tech provided to the non-scheduled aviation sector,” Crown says. “There was a huge hole in the market.”
Weng says Crown and the team leveraged their industry experience to create a meaningful and useful product. “Because Royce was a charter operator himself, he felt the pain and was determined to build a solution,” he says. “And he has found success because the business was based a market pull, not just a technology push … it’s all about the application.”
In his role, Weng helped polish Monarc Global’s funding application through a thorough due diligence process that sharpened the company’s value proposition and demonstrated that it would have an impact “well beyond just helping millionaires get from point a to point b”.
“I helped them look to the end user to show there’s a greater good or additional benefit to society and to the nation,” says Weng, who has a background in mechanical and computer engineering and has worked with AI for 15 years, since commercialising his own invention optimising fuel consumption for combustion engines.
Crown says the rigorous application process around the grant provided new insights into the company – and what it could achieve.
“It gave us complete insight into our own business and made us think about other verticals that it could achieve,” he says. “For example, it emerged that we could easily switch air distance calculation for water and, before you knew it, we would have a scheduling and pricing calculation tool for sea freight or luxury yachts or things of that nature.”
Ultimately, Crown would like to see the technology incorporated into web platforms run by online travel agencies such as Webjet or Expedia, allowing consumers to search for a charter flight alongside commercial, scheduled options.
“We would like to make it public and available to everyone, and that will open new markets, which is what we’re excited about,” he says. “Now the core of the business is built, we can go where the market needs are.”