APEX in Profile: Alex Gervash

Alex Gervash
Founder and CEO
SkyGuru

Alex is a commercial pilot who holds a degree in psychology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For more than 10 years, he has been helping anxious passengers overcome their fear of flying. An entrepreneur at heart, he is constantly thinking of new products to enhance the passenger experience. His app, SkyGuru, has over 120K downloads. The product is available in English, French, Russian and Hebrew, with Spanish coming soon.

How did the idea for SkyGuru come about?
I saw the need among people who fear flying to be more aware of what’s happening during a flight and I wanted to put that into a tool that would accompany them at all times. But SkyGuru is also for people who’ve become bored of flying or know little about how airlines work – it puts the “wow” back into traveling.

How effective is situational understanding at decreasing levels of anxiety?
People with anxiety search for a logical explanation to their panic and often sensationalize what they have seen in the movies. SkyGuru helps them stay present by giving real-time explanations and educating them about aviation at the same time.

What relief can users expect from the app?
Users first choose how they feel about flying: Are they curious, bored or anxious? SkyGuru personalizes the experience for each type of user by telling them what to expect and when during the flight, what they are flying over, explaining weather patterns and more.

What predictions can SkyGuru make and to what level of accuracy?
It starts with historical data. We take the seven previous flights of a route and analyze which path is the most probable. The algorithm considers air traffic control, weather, active NOTAMs [Notice to Airmen], among other things. We then plot that information against wind data to choose the altitude. Next, we calculate the speed and, therefore, the time needed to reach each point on the route. The accuracy is greater than 90 percent. We’re often able to predict the flight time even more precisely than the captain, and 24 hours prior to departure.

What were the roadblocks to developing SkyGuru?
The challenge was to teach a mobile device to recognize flight phases without being connected to any external source of data. We’re currently using a number of mobile device sensors.

How can potential partners benefit from SkyGuru technology?
Airlines can offer passengers additional information about their flight for a small fee. Imagine a sales pitch for a seat that goes like this: “Three hours after departure, passengers on the left side of the aircraft will be able to see the Swiss Alps. As we expect clear skies, consider reserving a window seat on the left to enjoy the view.”

We also think that adding aeronautical information to 3-D flight maps is a fresh idea. Knowing where and when to expect strong turbulence and indicating this on a flight path can help nervous passengers plan bathroom trips, for example.

Can you provide an anecdote about a user who has benefited from SkyGuru?
One user from Denmark wrote, “I was in a plane crash and now have severe flashbacks when flying. And so, I will use your app when I fly for the first time in five years in early February.” This is the kind of story that inspires us to continue working on SkyGuru.

Did you choose the airline industry or did it choose you?
I did. When I was 12 years old, I used to skip school to go to the airport and watch airplanes take off and land. I’ve been in love with aviation ever since.

“APEX in Profile: Alex Gervash” was originally published in the 9.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.