Opinion: Bridging The Digital Divide Between MRO And Tech Startups

conference floor

Aerospace tech startups may not know how to navigate the business processes and language of MROs.

Credit: SIAE 2023/Gilles Rolle

Given the extraordinary convergence of labor, performance, regulatory and supply chain challenges for aircraft operators and MROs into the foreseeable future, the appetite for technology-based solutions to alleviate numerous and crippling pain points continues to increase.

While many options and opportunities exist to embrace MRO technology, the digital divide between enablers and enterprise partners persists, often to the detriment of business performance across the globe.

This year’s Paris Air Show hosted several aerospace-centric incubators and accelerators, each showcasing dozens of early-stage companies developing, testing or actively deploying innovations that could have a huge impact across the aviation and aerospace MRO landscape. AireXpert was one of the companies exhibiting in conjunction with the previously Boeing-led Aerospace Xelerated accelerator program.

While my many conversations with company founders in Paris and elsewhere are generally optimistic, there is a common thread to the challenges and frustrations voiced by founding teams as well as the leadership teams of airlines and MROs.

With new solutions in various stages of readiness, from prototypes to fully scalable products and technologies, it makes sense for industry stakeholders to collaboratively acknowledge, understand and eliminate the roadblocks that prevent significant advances in MRO technologies.

Many operators and MROs lack a “lab” environment in which new technologies can be validated, vetted and refined. Often there is little or no existing staff dedicated to R&D, but merely teams that tend to be tasked with multiple projects. For obvious reasons, there is usually a low risk tolerance, and enterprise stakeholders are pressed to look for applications that will produce rock-solid, quantitative return on investment (ROI), many times even before an initial engagement. Finance teams often do not have enough visibility into MRO processes and operations to identify and prioritize projects based on impact. Business unit leadership teams might simply have too many competing priorities or too many external demands.

By definition, early-stage companies are bringing new value to the table, but they might not have yet figured out how to demonstrate the value to time-constrained leadership teams by telling a convincing story. They might not necessarily speak the language of MRO, as their projects may have spun out of universities or adjacent industries. They are often not sure how to navigate siloed workgroups and do not yet understand the purchasing cycle of an enterprise customer.

Their solutions may require buy-in from multiple stakeholders, and they may not yet have a holistic understanding of how (or if) their solution will play well with the myriad of other systems already in use. Founding teams might not yet have a firm grasp on ROI and/or the practical side of integrations and implementations.

Most important, early-stage companies face the stark reality of running out of funding before these essential questions are answered.

So how do we expedite the journey to where we need to be? It can be difficult to align expectations that deliver meaningful results, but here are several strategies AireXpert has found productive and helpful:

Operators and MROs

  •  Proactively partner with aerospace accelerators and incubators, which can provide crucial support during the phase in which companies are building their teams and validating their offerings.
  •  Recognize that startups value time and money entirely differently than enterprise companies.
  •  Facilitate 20-min. conversations between early-stage company founders and each of the following roles: business unit (users plus leadership), finance, procurement and legal.
  •  Iterate together. Your data, inside knowledge and access to people are both essential and priceless for companies that are helping you strategize for the future.
  •  Keep an open mind and an open door if early-stage companies do not have all the answers right now.


  •  It is not a sale, but it is a conversation in which you should be asking a lot of questions.
  •  If your audience is not understanding your value, you are either not talking to the right people or not telling the right story—or possibly both.
  •  Think and act holistically. Make it ridiculously easy for your audience to engage with you and understand what you can do for them.
  •  Come prepared. Use your 20-min. conversation wisely.

In the absence of new technologies, airlines and MROs will continue to purchase from a familiar yet high-cost and dwindling pool of resources. If done correctly, technology adoption in MRO represents an essential opportunity for all of us right now.

Based in Buffalo, New York, Andy Hakes is the founder and CEO of MRO software provider AireXpert.