Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
AIRDAT provides systems, training and consultancy services to airport organisations all across the UK and beyond; they work with major airports including Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Bristol and Manchester, plus airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. It’s safe to say this world-leading team’s reputation is one of efficiency, safety, adaptability and expertise. AIRDAT is the largest independent provider of airside driver training worldwide. We spoke with AIRDAT’s CEO, Charles Cardwell, to find out how the company has achieved such impressive growth in the fifteen years since its launch – and how a close partnership with Nimble has supported that commercial success.
A new way of working
Charles qualified as an airline pilot in the summer of 2001. As we all know, the world of aviation changed forever just weeks after, changing the course of his career. Over the next few years, he worked in a number of airport roles. One day he went for a coffee with a friend in charge of airside driving at Gatwick Airport, and was amazed to see the paper-based workload involved in training and accrediting staff. Manually sticking in driver photographs, entering test scores into spreadsheets and organising paper files – surely there had to be a better way? With that, the idea behind AIRDAT was born. Charles wanted to build a one stop shop for airport training and learner management, and created Passport: a system bringing together multi-choice online testing, practicals, webinars, online competency forms, and time based assessments. In 2016, he began searching for a partner to bring elearning to the system. Most of the elearning platforms available at the time were costly and inflexible; any changes would be chargeable, with a long lead time, and most systems were server-based rather than cloud-based. This was at odds with AIRDAT’s goals: to offer airports an elearning experience that didn’t require in-depth technical understanding, and saved them time and money.
AIRDAT’s search for an elearning partner
When Charles started to search for a trusted partner to really get their project off the ground, he had a few key priorities:
- Cost-effectiveness for the customer
- Easy to use – no technical expertise needed
- Seamless updates at no additional cost
Nimble shone above the rest. The interface was simple to use for learners, but even more importantly for AIRDAT, the inline authoring tool was easy for subject matter experts too. They could build courses independently, without the steep learning curve of many other systems (or the need to hand work over to another team). Nimble’s cloud-based platform was a welcome contrast to many others at the time; instead of loading local software with expensive licences, the authoring tool worked online from anywhere (and updates were automatically applied). So, Charles chose Nimble – and AIRDAT’s innovative cloud based training management and competency system, Passport, entered a new phase. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this enabled AIRDAT to create the UK’s first airside driver training programme that employed elearning alongside in-person methods.
Put simply, AIRDAT’s Passport is a complete system for airport training and compliance. It covers the whole process: planning, delivering, managing, recording and reporting – all in one place. Critically, it allows airports to see an overview of not just their internal employees’ progress, but also the training status of staff within other companies that work on site. This feature ensures total compliance with regulations, maintaining safety standards across large airport communities of tens of thousands of people. In the airport industry, legislation changes regularly, so a robust system that supports quick course editing and instant updates for learners is critical. From the learner’s perspective, it’s really straightforward: log in to Passport, either on a PC or a mobile device, check your training is up to date – and, if you need to, complete elearning courses in bite-sized chunks to work around your shift pattern. Your progress is instantly updated, and any assessment results available immediately, both to you and your manager. Many of AIRDAT’s courses are blended, adopting a mix of in-person and online training – a great approach for something that requires skills practice alongside knowledge, like airside driving. Elearning gives airports the ability to manage training content and convey large amounts of information to learners in an interactive and staggered way. All learners then have a consistent base level of knowledge before attending on-site training. Blended learning also helps to familiarise staff with the theoretical concepts and rules before they arrive on site. This is particularly helpful for courses like airside driving; the airside environment can be intimidating at first!
From strength to strength
AIRDAT may have had humble beginnings over a coffee, but since the company’s launch in 2006 they have seen phenomenal growth. Part of this is surely due to their system’s ability to scale effectively using the underlying Nimble technology. Airports need reliable, robust systems that can adapt to their changing needs: a large airport such as Gatwick has a community of over 40,000 people working there, with over 360 different assessments to manage and track across its departments. In airside driving alone, there are around 10,000 staff to train. That’s a real challenge for any system. Take into account that there is no downtime – after all, airports are a 24/7 operation – and you begin to understand why AIRDAT has built such a reputation for excellence. Although it all began with Passport, AIRDAT’s teams now offer a wide range of services, from training and cloud-based assurance systems to consultancy and bespoke digital solutions. They remain committed to constant improvement with an unrelenting focus on the customer’s needs. It’s clear that Charles and his team take pride in negotiating challenges with skill, while always keeping the user experience at the heart of their systems.
So, why has AIRDAT’s partnership with Nimble been such a long-lasting one? Charles cites Nimble’s commitment to constant improvement as a major factor. The platform moves with the times, assessing the needs of authors and learners to add new features (and using robust testing to ensure these features work smoothly). The other major aspect of the partnership that stands out for AIRDAT is the level of support they receive from Nimble. Technical support is quick and effective, which is particularly important for airports with time-critical needs. Fundamentally, both companies share the same ethos: