Ivan Camrda started to do business as an entrepreneur before the 1989 revolution, and he is not ashamed to admit that the beginnings were hard. „First I worked as a natural person with several assistants. Later I started to use the Copyright Act, or we may say the intellectual property legislation“, laughs at it the CS Soft founder today. The company has existed since 1988, and it develops air traffic control systems and simulators. To simplify for easy understanding, the company prevents the planes from colliding. These days the company makes things that few in the world can make.
Most people get their idea about the air traffic control environment only from movies where people with headphones are screaming and running nervously while trying to save an aeroplane in trouble. Nothing is further from reality. In fact, air traffic control means being quiet and focused behind a computer.
For a layperson, it does not look much attractive nor is it easy to grasp – screens with a tangle of short white lines and spreadsheets that only professional understands. All of this together graphically depicts the current air traffic over our heads.
The work is, however, difficult, demanding full concentration, so air traffic controllers must take turns every two hours. To be able to perform at a professional level requires long-term training. Towards this end, CS Soft develops the air traffic control simulators. These simulators provide for High-fidelity, so to speak, that is they provide a simulation of a real working environment. And that means that the CS Soft company has helped for years to improve the training of air traffic controllers. CS Soft also developed a simulator to train complete beginners, it has been used at the Czech Air Navigation Institute in Prague, also foreign companies use it to train their people.
But CS Soft is not just about simulators. It develops systems that do not control aircraft directly, of course, but provide information to air traffic controllers to ensure the safety and continuity of civil aviation. Company programmers continuously work on the most efficient way of interlinking a sophisticated surveillance radar network, the ADS-B and multilateration systems, along with flight plan data in such a way that the controller in the tower knows at any given moment at what position each plane currently is.
As a result, air traffic controllers issue flight permits and instructions to maintain safe separation between aircraft, increase airspace perviousness, provide information to crews, but also help in special cases. Simply put: CS Soft is working to improve all interconnected communication systems so that the planes do not collide over our heads.
We must become absolute professionals and carry out unpopular policies too, says Ms Richterová.
The enormous amount of data that flows continuously through the data networks does not run only between air traffic control centres, or aeroplanes and pilots but flows through the flight data bank in Brussels, to the military and other parties.
Even more interesting than what CS Soft does is the story of its founder. „As I say, there was a time in the early days when I thought I'd go into a forest to look for a tree to hang myself from. But that probably was a part of the business experience at the time“, says Ivan Camrda. “At that time, I was a furniture trader and did whatever else was available. For example, I brought the sliding door systems to the Czech market”, he recalls with a smile. The situation of the founder of the company changed for the better when he no longer had to cooperate with the association of authors from whom he purchased the software, but thanks to the new aviation law he could establish a standard limited liability company.
“In 2009 I turned the business into a joint-stock company and in 2017 I sold most of my share, 80 per cent, to CSG. When I look back and realize what I am grateful for, it is the amazing and clever people who have been in the company from the beginning and also those who came later“.
Thanks to them, they survived as much as a loss of 1.5 million euros when they sold their first product abroad and had a poorly built contract.
Ivan Camrda does not look back by accident. In terms of business, there is only one customer in each country, and it is typically a state-owned company providing air navigation services. In practice, this means that CS Soft almost always has to take part in tenders, and most of the time it competes against the huge military companies with state ownership.
„Which is very difficult without government support“, the company founder admits. Against this backdrop, at the end of 2017, 80% of the company was sold to a strong domestic player, the Czechoslovak Group, that wants to promote products of Czech and Slovak aviation companies abroad. For this purpose, the CSG Aerospace division was established in 2018, where CS Soft has its place, as well as several other interesting companies such as ELDIS, Retia, Czech Aviation Service, Slovak Training Academy, Job Air Technic and others.
„There is no other such software-oriented company in the Czech Republic, which is why it is interesting for all IT people to work here. And who comes, usually stays for years. I have to show off, we also have marathon runners among us, which is probably because ATM programmers need to be very precise, so in whatever they do, they do their best, so when they run, they run a marathon”, says the HR Director Pavla Žemličková that to work here is a prestigious affair for SW developers and whoever comes stays.
According to Ivan Camrda, the size of the company, which has 81 people to date, has its bright side. „On the one hand, customers appreciate the fact that we are often able to solve complex technical problems relatively quickly compared to our competitors. At the same time, all the more often we encounter the fact that even the biggest players in the industry address us and ask for our services directly. At the moment, we have promising interesting projects and cooperation running abroad, and I firmly believe that we could materialize some of them soon“, says the man who also contributed to the fact that since the first version of the system was launched in 2001, there has not been a single event which would significantly endanger the safety of civil aviation in the Czech Republic.
However, today's system has little to do with the original version, as all systems and components have since undergone a complete revamp and their development continues. „It is a never-ending process”, concludes the founder of the company that has good prospects for the future.