Private jet charter company FlightPartner is reaping the benefits of DevOps to build a powerful software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering to keep its customers flying high with no delays.
“FlightPartner does not own any aircraft but rather facilitates the travel needs of clients by offering air charter brokers (agents to the client) access to a global network of private jet charter availability,” says Douglas Schmohl, CEO and founder of FlightPartner. By acting as a global distribution network (GDN), FlightPartner enables access to real-time availability of private jets.
What TravelPort is to airline seat availability, FlightPartner is to private jet availability, Schmohl says.
FlightPartner’s cloud-based SaaS manages data exchanges and transactions through a web browser as a web-based service, requiring no client software installs for the brokers or operators. The service uses Angular.js, a “structural framework for dynamic Web apps” to pass data from the browser to a PHP back end. A database and integrated systems back end builds real-time pricing quotes for available private jets, while the payment mechanism supports search, booking and payment, completing the transaction, Schmohl says.
FlightPartner uses a Laravel open-source PHP framework, which was created by Taylor Otwell and was originally targeted to developing Web applications following the model-view-controller (MVC) architectural pattern. “This framework allows for rapid development, testing and deployment of our SaaS solution,” Schmohl notes.
SaaS Technical Challenges
Schmohl and company endured some technical issues as they built FlightPartner software and worked to raise it to the skies where it would eventually soar. Schmohl was committed to following the lean startup practices of Eric Reis, author of “The Lean Startup,” which redefined the roadmap for a startup tech company, Schmohl says. According to the book, one of the first steps in approaching a new business as a lean startup is to try to float a “minimum viable product,” or just enough product or service to test the market demand for it. “This was nearly impossible for us due to the complexity of the air charter marketplace,” he says, so Schmohl had to invest in a more technically developed product rather than a simple solution.
In the private jet charter industry, with so much change, so many variables, so many players needing access and so many systems that FlightPartner would need to access, a minimum viable product still necessitated numerous external integrations and APIs. “Developmental collaboration to achieve this was difficult at best and developers often pushed code to production only to create more issues with each deployment,” Schmohl says.
A second technical misstep—and in the absence of formal development structure—Schmohl’s team wrote code to solve specific functional problems one by one. However, the team found that a method for developing one function would conflict with a different method that was used to create another function, and so on. “The constant patching of the front and back end consisted of whatever worked. This code became challenging to manage and scale,” he says.
Because of these two technical challenges, FlightPartner’s attempts at a minimum viable product and at following a lean startup approach soon were tangled in a mess of spaghetti code and unmanageable methods, Schmohl says.
FlightPartner Development Pipeline
Today, development at FlightPartner is much improved. The SaaS and its components start with a local build that the system pushes to a development server in AWS. FlightPartner developers use SourceTree, a Git client and the Git versioning system to manage software versions. FlightPartner uses quality assurance to manage development and to test code, and developers fix errant code and deploy it to AWS using Elasticbeanstalk. “This enables rapid builds and continuous deployment,” Schmohl says.
Using a DevOps approach to development brings structure to an otherwise-highly dynamic marketplace. “Offering a SaaS solution as a marketplace presents challenges unlike a typical marketplace. Our inventory (aircraft) is fluid in that it moves often and the price changes depending upon location. This operational challenge translates to numerous and constant development with changes in software functionality,” Schmohl notes.
These are the operational needs that drive software requirements; the developers’ goals increasingly are to meet those requirements so the software seamlessly supports operations. Development uses a priority status to identify and escalate the builds that are most critical to continued, smooth operational activity.
FlightPartner’s development process has created a workflow process that minimizes the resources necessary to achieve operational results. Thanks in large part to DevOps and the cloud-based SaaS system, FlightPartner’s GDN has aircraft available for charter in six of the seven continents, including 35 percent of available aircraft located outside the United States, says Schmohl.