Design and dedication open up export opportunities

Aviramp, an engineering company based in Telford in Shropshire, won the Exporter of the Year award for its success in identifying a business requirement, meeting the technical challenges it created, and then selling that solution in the UK and internationally.

The company’s name is a succinct summary of what it does – it builds ramps for the aviation industry – but a more detailed examination reveals why the business is distinctive and has a guaranteed future in exports.

The air transport sector has a constant requirement for handling passengers with mobility issues in a manner that is both sensitive to their needs and has the minimal impact on their operations.

Issues arise when level access from an airport terminal is not available, and the aircraft can be reached only by a flight of steps. Wheelchair-bound passengers have to be hoisted on a telescopic platform to the level of the galley loading door along with the cooked meal containers and miscellaneous cabin cargo. Dignity stays on the tarmac.

Other mobility-impaired passengers and families with pushchairs are usually treated as ‘special cases’ and asked to board the plane ahead of those waiting in the departure area. Boarding time is potentially increased and short turnround times jeopardised.

Aviramp designed and developed a solution for boarding aircraft direct from the tarmac which extends far beyond the benefits to the occasional wheelchair user or family with small children. It replaces the flight of steps with an inclined ramp from ground level to the passenger door. The gradient is sufficiently shallow to handle wheelchairs, baby buggies and the growing proportion of often elderly but otherwise able-bodied passengers who prefer not to have to climb a steep staircase.

A quick calculation would show that a single ramp at an acceptable angle from the ground up to the aircraft could be too long for the ground handling facilities at many airports. By constructing the air ramp as a three-part zig-zag, however, that hurdle is overcome and creates a compact but flexible solution that will be delivered to an airport in a container.

Who the customer is for the Aviramp system depends on local operating practices. Graham Corfield, the company’s CEO, explained that this can be an airport operator, an airline or the specialist ground-handling company at the airport.

A range of five models can accommodate the full range of access heights encountered across aircraft flying today. And at a cost of around £50,000, it is a facility that could reasonably be afforded even at provincial airports across the world.

Financial benefits to aviation sector

Apart from the practical and psychological benefits to ‘encumbered’ passengers, the ramp has been shown to achieve financial savings under operational conditions. One no-frills airline which has been trialling the system reported being able to load a full complement of passengers eight minutes faster than by using a staircase. That achieves significant savings particularly at the end of a busy day when aircraft on tight schedules are running late and take-off slots are at a premium.

One airline saving eight minutes at a single UK airport is probably not the basis for building a successful manufacturing business. But when the total package of benefits – time savings and improved quality of life for disabled passengers – is taken into account, the product has enormous export potential.

The company could not have timed the launch of its system better given the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. Disabled competitors – many of them in wheelchairs or with other mobility issues – will be arriving from around the world. Travel-hardened though these passengers may be, the ability to embark and disembark quickly, and in comfort, dignity and style, will have a bearing on their total experience of the Games.

It is encouraging to find that the first export order is from Mexico rather than Brazil, suggesting that the merits of the solution are already being recognised beyond the immediately obvious marketplace of the Paralympics .

High street bank referred its client to TAEFL Group

The Trade & Export Finance group came to assist Aviramp through an introduction from one of the high street banks. Graham Corfield and his wife Lisa had invested around £500,000 in developing the airport ramp but were about to run out of cash while the company was still taxiing for take-off.

The system had proved effective, and the company’s management had a track record in running a manufacturing business, but the bank could not support the funding of Aviramp’s exports. Aware TAEFL had proven expertise in financing exports, the bank manager invited the Aston team to work with the Corfields.

TAEFL agreed to fund the sale of the system to Mexico through UK EXIM Finance, one of the finance companies in the group. This will be repaid as the equipment is delivered to Cancun airport, Aviramp’s customer. Graham Corfield again: “As a result, we have a cash flow and cash in the bank when we most need it.

“Our order book is growing, and some of our larger clients pay deposits which take off some of the pressure. But there are going to be many instances where this is not the case, and we know we can rely on Mark Runiewicz and his team at TAEFL to fund those contracts so we will never be prevented from fulfilling an order again.”

The prospects for Aviramp are good. It has a product set with a huge worldwide marketplace. No less important, it has the production capacity to build four or five of the units every week. Using its funding and skill sets, TAEFL and the specialist finance companies in the group have been able to turn an export opportunity into an export success.

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