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Bristol Ground School (BGS) is the leading distance learning provider for students achieving the European Aviation Safety Agency ‘Airline Transport Pilot’s License’ (ATPL).

The peerless quality and accuracy of BGS course materials has been a hallmark of the company’s 20+ years of market success. To maintain market leadership and meet the rising e-learning expectations of new students, BGS set out to embrace a bold new software-driven approach to its course packages. With Helastel at its side, this journey would ultimately lead BGS to establish the globally recognised de facto standard for classroom-based training in aviation.

The Situation

Alex Whittingham is Managing Director of BGS, and has always recognised the value of innovation in driving his business forward; staying ahead of the competition over successive years by investing in training technology:

“We had some software that had been developed and changed over a period of about eight years, but had become pretty much time-expired. We decided to start from scratch and produce new software that was future-proofed and designed specifically for our needs.”

Alex’s initial goal had been to find a new solution ‘off-the-shelf’ but, after consulting several e-learning experts on the matter, it became clear that no such product had ever been written that could meet the BGS requirements. The e-learning consultants recommended that an independent software development company be contracted to work on the project. “They said, go to Helastel,” recalls Alex.

The Opportunity

BGS’s vision was to develop a new generation of e-learning software to replace the old outdated classroom-based training system, and reaffirm its status as a world leader in the provision of online and offline training materials for ATPL training. A major catalyst for this was the copyright infringement of BGS’s intellectual property by a third party. This has subsequently been settled by the courts in BGS’s favour, but - at the time - represented a clear threat to the company’s future competitiveness.

The task was challenging, in terms of its complexity and the importance of accuracy. Accuracy is taken extremely seriously in the aviation industry, for obvious safety reasons, making it imperative that BGS’s training materials contain zero errors. One dimension of the project involved taking the entirety of content published in BGS’s paper manuals and transferring this online to be made available via a variety of mobile device platforms. GIven BGS’s understandable copyright sensitivities, the overriding requirement was that this extremely valuable asset be kept in a highly secure fashion, safe from the risk of being plagiarised.

Helastel completed a full scoping exercise, and developed a project plan to fulfil the following objectives:

  • Develop specific features by listening to the needs of users. This included asking real students: what do you require, what are the best ways for you to learn this content, how does this fits in with the blended learning that you are doing both in the classroom and online? Over 500 use tests were completed as part of this exercise.
  • Create the most up to date course material, through a high volume of animation, audio and video content. Helastel also applied its knowledge - and insights from users - to design a simple and intuitive interface to assure the optimum user experience.
  • Facilitate the delivery of training content anywhere in the world on any device. A realistic training scenario could be in an underground RAF bunker or a remote desert with no Internet connection.
  • Develop an adjacent revenue-generated software service (‘BGS Online’) to give students a safe, secure ‘mock exam’ environment for practicing questions
  • Enable the software to deliver certification. This necessitated an extremely high information security threshold and accuracy of reporting results in real-time over the Internet.
  • Deliver rapid software updates to all devices as they are released by BGS.
  • Provide facilities to flight schools to help them maintain compliance with the Civil Aviation Authority.
  • Ensure a seamless infrastructure change with no interruption to the 6,000+ existing worldwide users of BGS services.

A big part of the project was migrating from BGS’s old infrastructure to a new infrastructure environment of hardware and hybrid cloud facilities to deal with large scale worldwide user demand. This meant accounting for all relevant IT and data assets already in use; around 10,000-12,000 instances of software alone.

The Outcome

Helastel collaborated with BGS to plan, prototype, implement and deliver the entire system and achieve an original business vision. The fully bespoke solution, named ‘ATP Digital’ (and the associated ‘BGS Online’)was delivered on budget; concluding with a successful global rollout, including customer support and migration. Today, over 1,500 pilots a year receive their ATPL using ATP Digital, including more than half of all pilots receiving their ATPL under the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

The effect has been truly transformative to the BGS business; completing its evolution to an agile, software-driven learning provider able to access and compete in new international markets. It is moving into the future with the confidence that its intellectual property is open for business, but totally secure from compromise.

The Future

For Alex Whittingham and his team at BGS, the value of their Helastel software is underpinned by a shared commitment to continuous improvement.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine running our business without software and without computer-based training. Helastel has helped us; they’ve supported the software and there’s been a process of continuous development where we’ve suggested changes, they’ve suggested changes and the product just keeps getting better and better and better.”
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