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Sciengistics lands a big bird


Sciengistics, a Des Moines-based start-up whose software helps airlines more efficiently manage staffing needs, has teamed with JetBlue Airways, a discount carrier that has become the airline industry’s current darling.

John H. Brant Jr., vice president of products and services of Sciengistics, gained the knowledge he needed to develop the Web-enabled software, called StationApps, while working at Continental Airlines. The program helps airlines determine the appropriate level of staffing for customer service, baggage, ticket and gate personnel.

Sciengistics is one of the high-tech companies sheltered at Gregg Barcus and John Lamarche’s Emerging Growth Group business incubator at 300 S.W. Fifth St. Brant and Peter Porto, Sciengistics’ president, said the company is on track to be profitable midway through the next year.

JetBlue is only Sciengistic’s second customer – Hawaiian Airlines is its first – but the airline’s stature in the industry is worth gold. The airline, which offers leather seats throughout the passenger cabin, free satellite television at every seat and special perks such as instructions for four easy-to-assume yoga positions designed to be done in the planes’ seats, is growing at a rate of about 100 percent a year.

“Having them as a referenced customer is huge,” Porto said. “JetBlue’s management is comprised of the best and brightest. When talented executives who came from other airlines see we’re doing a good job, believe me, we are going to get some referrals.”

Porto said the StationApps software can be used by about 40 domestic airlines. “This stamps us as the latest, greatest technology,” he said. “The competition has old equipment installed on all the old airlines that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.”

After having built three successful aviation businesses, JetBlue CEO David Neeleman secured $130 million from investors in 1999 and announced his plan to launch an airline that would bring “humanity back to air travel.” The airline now serves 20 cities with more than 100 flights a day with its fleet of 36 Airbus Industrie A320 aircraft, and has contracts for a fleet totaling 132 new A320s.

Along with Southwest Airlines, JetBlue was the only profitable major airline last year with operating income of $26.8 million on $320 million in revenues. In addition, it received $18.7 million in the U.S. government’s bailout of the airline industry following last year’s terrorist attacks. For the six months ended June 30, revenues rose 99 percent to $282.7 million. Net income applicable to common stock totaled $21.6 million, up from $9.5 million. JetBlue’s stock became publicly traded last winter, and its most recent earnings will be announced Nov. 7.

“The airline industry was under pressure before Sept. 11, and the losses are coming from the dinosaurs,” Porto said. “Their demise is funneling business down to our market space.”

Sciengistics is working on another software application for the Transportation Security Division, a new division of the U.S. Department of Transportation formed after the terrorist attacks. The software, called ScreenApps, will help the TSA manage security staffing needs at the nation’s airports.

A third product, CenterApps, will be marketed to organizations with call center departments to help them manage their staffing. The software could be particularly useful in Greater Des Moines, which has the second-highest concentration of insurance businesses, Porto and Brant said.  

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