ForeFlight, the scrappy software startup that grew into an aviation powerhouse over the last 10 years, has officially made it to the flight levels. Boeing announced today that the $100 billion airplane maker is buying the Houston-based app company for an undisclosed sum.
This shouldn’t come as a total surprise, given the collaboration between the two companies since they announced a software development partnership in 2017. In addition to integrating Jeppesen charts into ForeFlight, they worked together to launch an all-new version of Jeppesen’s FliteDeck airline app (a major undertaking). Those projects obviously went well, and this formal acquisition seems to be the next step.
What the merger means
The Boeing press release is, as you might expect with a public company, quite vague. We talked to ForeFlight Co-Founder and CEO Tyson Weihs about the deal, and he said the companies’ complementary skills were the most compelling factor: “We’re inspired by what Boeing is doing – they are innovating in so many areas – and there is so much we can accomplish together. Since we started ForeFlight, we’ve changed the way pilots fly and made a measurable impact on safety. That will continue at Boeing, where we have access to a broad array of resources that we will use to create even greater things for ForeFlight customers.”
In particular, Weihs pointed out that a Boeing-ForeFlight partnership is not all about airlines; he’s excited about bringing some emerging commercial aviation technology to general aviation. He thinks there’s a lot for airline and military pilots to learn from general aviation’s use of electronic flight bag apps, and vice versa.
While that’s hopefully good news for general aviation pilots, it’s certainly the end of an era for ForeFlight, which was started in 2007 by Weihs and Co-Founder Jason Miller as a side project while the two worked their day jobs. The two pilots, who had never met in person, created an iPhone app at a time when the concept was untested and digital charts were almost impossible to use. That first app was successful, so they added an iPad version when the best-selling tablet was introduced in 2010, and later expanded to online tools, international charting options, and so much more. The company now boasts 180 employees spread across three US offices, and customers ranging from bush pilots to major airlines to the US Air Force.
Given Boeing’s dominant position in both commercial and military aviation, we expect to see more of those pilots flying with ForeFlight or perhaps a new version of the FliteDeck Pro X app. As Ben Davis of Boeing told us, “Boeing is excited to build on ForeFlight’s experience in business and general aviation so we can provide integrated digital lifecycle solutions to commercial and government aviation customers. Combined with Boeing’s global market access and resources, ForeFlight is well positioned to capture new opportunities.”
There’s also the potential for much tighter integration between apps and airframes, perhaps with model-specific performance, crew alerting, and documentation features integrated into one place. Jeppesen has a variety of apps that provide some of these features already, but there’s room for improvement and consolidation.
Given that Jeppesen’s current apps are available on platforms besides just iOS, some pilots are hoping this announcement could lead to an Android or Windows version of ForeFlight. Time will tell, but Boeing certainly brings new resources and new customer requirements.
Any changes for GA pilots?
Many pilots have greeted the news with a mix of excitement and trepidation, happy that ForeFlight is growing but nervous about potential changes. We asked Davis what pilots can expect from Boeing.
- Will there be any changes for current ForeFlight subscribers over the next few months in terms of product features or subscription plans? “Near term, no changes are planned to existing ForeFlight products or services.”
- Will support procedures change at all? “No changes in support procedures are planned. ForeFlight will integrate into Boeing’s Global Services business and continue to support existing customers while benefitting from Boeing’s resources, scale, technology research and commercial expertise.”
- My university/flight department has an educational/fleet license program – any changes? “Not at this time.”
- Any changes to current ForeFlight leadership roles? “There are no planned changes to the workforce at this time. We are focused on combining best practices from both organizations to deliver high-value digital lifecycle solutions to our customers.” Weihs also confirmed that he’s not going anywhere.
Of course this isn’t the first general aviation acquisition for Boeing. In 2000, the company bought the famed Jeppesen line of charts and training products; in 2006 they bought parts distributor Aviall.
This news also fits with the recent trend of consolidation in the app marketplace. Last year, Garmin bought Fltplan.com, combining the leading panel avionics company and a very popular flight planning tool for professional pilots. The result is almost a Coke vs. Pepsi situation, with two billion dollar companies competing for customers. Will the winners of this Boeing-ForeFlight vs. Garmin-Fltplan.com battle be pilots? Let’s hope so.