A former flight school dispatcher who sought scheduling efficiency saw the future nearly 15 years ago and designed his own program to maximize aircraft and flight instructors’ times. Dean Koujak was at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York, when he decided to design a better way of coordinating aircraft, instructors, and students to maximize productivity.
With a handful of contract flight instructors making the rounds at multiple fixed-base operators, he learned that it was a scheduling nightmare—on a good day. Koujak designed Holdshort software as an online calendar and record-keeping system to address the inefficiencies of pen and paper, telephone calls, and emails.
“The core of it was to dispatch aircraft,” Koujak told AOPA, “and to make sure you were up on maintenance, knew who was taking the aircraft, and make it easy for a dispatch officer or manager to verify certificates, maintenance,” and other requirements.
Koujak said the desktop software enjoyed success for more than a decade before he noticed another trend that caused concern. About five years ago he discovered that local flight instructors were increasingly going to their handheld devices to check calendars, get the latest weather, and file flight plans.
That’s when he decided the desktop software needed to go mobile. “We did a reboot in 2012 because programming languages had changed and the industry changed” since Holdshort’s inception. “And remember, we didn’t have iPhones back in the mid-2000s” when the company started, he said. “We really had to re-do the whole site. So I said ‘OK, let’s do it,’ but it was a long process.”
It took two years to get everything running with the goal to service Android as well as Apple devices—and to make the whole process smooth enough for mobile users to catch on quickly. “We spent another year developing that and testing it” to work out the bugs.
During the downtime Koujak said competitors had adopted some of his innovations. Indeed, another player in the scheduling marketplace is Flight Schedule Pro, which has gained popularity at many flight schools and flying clubs.
He feels the resulting homework, however, has leap-frogged Holdshort ahead of the competition because the company is focused on hard-core Android users as well as Apple fans. He explained that Android devices normally require completely different software commands than iOS systems, and they account for about 30 to 40 percent of the mobile marketplace. “Everybody can use Holdshort,” he added. “We didn’t want to leave anyone out.”
With that in mind, he encouraged developers to use a new programming language that allowed simultaneous builds for both the Android and the iPhone. Although the coding took longer, “it makes the development process more streamlined and you don’t have to start from scratch for the Android—that would have cost a lot more money.”
The result was Holdshort’s new mobile app released in May. A news release said, “Holdshort.com seeks to shake-up the Aviation industry” through its “centralized open platform that allows seamless user addition, pilot credential management, and complete resource and location management.” Aviation businesses which adopt the platform, he predicted, “will find themselves on the forefront of innovation.”
Koujak said his strategy pinpointed mobile users because more business is being transacted in a mobile fashion. “The folks who book airplanes, they can schedule a flight almost at any time, like on a whim. A lot of times pilots just show up at an airport and think, ‘I wonder if the airplane is available to book?’ They can login to the app and see, literally within two clicks, if they can schedule an airplane. They can be up and on their way” in a matter of moments and avoid delays.
He hopes the app will increase aircraft utilization at many flight schools and FBOs because of its simplicity and the speed with which users can access schedules. Koujak said the app is ideal for freelance instructors at airfields with multiple FBOs and was designed to avoid accidental double-booking of aircraft and instructors. “Other systems aren’t able to allow a single user to access multiple organizations and then sync those schedules,” he said, which may result in an unavailable instructor—or an aircraft that is already checked out to someone else.
“We built it for our home field in Farmingdale where we have a bunch of freelance instructors who want to fly as much as possible, but they need to be able to access those different clubs and schedules.” For example, one student preferred an instructor who was proficient in multiengine as well as primary instruction and rotated among several flight schools on the field. Before the Holdshort app was introduced, syncing multiple students' schedules with the same instructor—and different aircraft—was a complicated process for everyone.
Koujak pointed out that Holdshort “works just like [Microsoft’s] Outlook when someone tries to schedule a meeting and you can see if they’re already booked or if they’re available. The advantage is that schools at the same airfield are able to get on the same scheduling platform.”
He said it was a win-win situation for all of the parties involved because “it helps clubs feed off each other when they are able to cooperate and share resources. It’s a major boost for business.”
Koujak said Holdshort is geared for pilots on-the-go in today’s fast-paced environment. “Your phone is always with you. Users can just press on the schedule, click on an open time slot, and when it pops up, use your thumb to confirm the time, then you press ‘add,’ and you’re done. That’s it.”
Prices for Holdshort’s scheduling software begin at $10 per month for a shared aircraft, with additional pricing options for flying clubs, flight schools, and corporate flight departments.