Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) Northern - Spidertracks


26 Oct 2020
An aviator’s best friend: the really black box

When New Zealand businessman, the late Michael Erceg, was lost in his helicopter for 17 days eight years ago Spider Tracks Ltd devastated founders swung into action.

The three Palmerston North friends thought there had to be a better way to find aircraft quickly when they crashed, and to hopefully save lives.

The three comprised two keen pilots and engineer James McCarthy who is spidertracks’ general manager.

They made a little box that is truly black and uses satellites and GPS-enabled software to track an aircraft’s flight online - unlike cockpit recorders that are orange though referred to as ‘black boxes’ after their inventor Mr Black, and which only record pilot conversations and control movements for investigations after accidents.

The units, called ‘Spiders’, that sit on a plane’s dashboard, produce information such as location, altitude, speed and direction of travel – accessed in real time online by the aircraft owners, who can even text pilots over this system.

With the automated or manual SOS alerting system when an accident occurs, rescuers can be notified almost immediately to the last location of the aircraft, decreasing the search area dramatically, and reducing the time to be found.

The route information remains on a server till deleted. The ‘black box’ does not need to be found. Online, an aircraft controller/owner can select individual aircraft in a sidebar to find out information about any plane.

If a pilot crashed today in a plane with spidertracks installed, it is likely he would be found within a day, and very possibly within the ‘golden hour’ where chances of survival are increased.

The spidertacks system - comprising tracking units, satellite communications and tracking software - is installed in over 4000 aircraft (both commercial and recreational) in more than 80 countries. Export revenue is $4.2 million.

The company has sales staff in the US – one in Florida and one in Oregon.

The company recently moved headquarters to Auckland as it was struggling to find the people it needed. Some of its nine staff in development and administration remain in Palmerston North.

McCarthy, whose brother Luke is the sales manager, says it’s hard finding skilled people. He employs from overseas, with more in the wind.

“New Zealand is desperately short of people with IT skills especially software development,” he says.

It’s also far from markets. 

But the good thing about doing business in New Zealand is the relatively low compliance costs and bureaucracy, and the favourable time zones for many parts of the world - from Asia through to east coast North America.

McCarthy’s advice to someone who is in their first year of business would be: “Make sure you understand who your customer is: focus on them. And make sure everyone in your organisation agrees with you! Everyone has to be rowing in the same direction.”​

For more infomation vist: www.spidertracks.com​

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