- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

A Washington business is changing the flight paths for commercial airlines. CSSI Inc., a technical and engineering services company in Southwest, helps certify airlines for a new federal requirement that reduces the space a plane must have between other aircraft above or below it.
   
   Planes flying at between 29,000 and 41,000 feet must fly at least 2,000 feet between other commercial aircraft because conventional altimeters need the space to safely measure the altitude.
   
   But airlines worldwide have been adding technologies to their planes that lower the needed airspace to 1,000 feet.
   
   Now carriers flying in North America are trying to catch up and comply with a Federal Aviation Administration rule that requires aircraft to have the upgraded equipment in place by Jan. 5, 2005.
   
   The upgrade is a long-term project needed to make the skies more manageable with an expected increase in air traffic, FAA spokesman William Shumann said.
   
   “Yes, flights and the number of passengers are down right now, but we’re also seeing an increase in air traffic out of domestic airports like Chicago O’Hare,” he said.
   
   The upgrade is expected to increase the number of planes able to fly on the most-direct air routes. The change will create six flight levels and save $400 million a year in fuel, according to the FAA.
   
   For the past five years, Cynthia Castillo, CSSI president and chief executive officer, and her team have been certifying and upgrading airplanes to meet the 1,000-feet separation rule.
   
   In 2000, CSSI monitored and upgraded aircraft for carriers including China Airlines, Japan Airlines, Air Hong Kong and Philippine Airlines. It has about half of the worldwide market.
   
   Now the company is looking to dominate the domestic airline market, which must certify about 5,500 aircraft by the deadline, and beat out competitors, such as Arinc Inc., an Annapolis transportation engineering company that also certifies aircraft for the FAA regulation.
   
   “We’re hoping to capture it all. We’ve helped a lot of domestic and international airlines, through the FAA, get RVSM certifications, and it’s certainly an area of business I’m not willing to let go,” Miss Castillo said. RVSM stands for reduced vertical separation minimum.
   
   Arinc shares half the domestic certification market with CSSI, spokesman Paul Clouse said. “But the RVSM certification process is not our main focus because it has a fixed life.”
   
   CSSI says it has won 60 percent of the U.S. market share for the certification process in addition to winning a contract from NAV Canada, Canada’s air navigation service provider, to conduct a safety assessment on the agency’s plan to upgrade Canadian aircraft.
   
   The company has had its share of setbacks, including a loss of business with the FAA after the September 11 attacks.
   
   Severe acute respiratory syndrome and security concerns about the recent war in Iraq have reprioritized the agency’s budget and put programs like the certification process on the back burner, Miss Castillo said. “But in those instances, we have refocused our workers in other projects until things got back on track,” she said.
   
   After the 2005 deadline, CSSI plans to focus on managing systems for air traffic control and network security. The company also is hoping to expand to Norfolk to bid for more Navy contracts supporting its air systems.
   
   The focus on equipping planes with the new space standards has been a major shift for CSSI, which began in 1990 by providing oceanic research for the Navy and supporting air traffic control systems.
   
   The company was founded by Frank G. Castillo, Miss Castillo’s father. She took over after his sudden death in 1993.
   
   While she had a background in the aerospace industry as a senior finance analyst for the radar systems group at Hughes Aircraft Co., a California aircraft design company that is now part of Raytheon Co., Miss Castillo said she wasn’t prepared for running the business.
   
   “All I had going was my determination not to give up and the certainty to others that I was here to stay,” she said.
   
   Miss Castillo surrounded herself with resources from small businesses and air transportation associations and looked to the veteran, 25-person staff for direction.
   
   Most of company’s growth has come from branching out with “smart risks,” said Chief Operating Officer Bill Colligan, who joined CSSI in 1995.
   
   “When I came on board, we were doing mainly air traffic management and control systems support. I think we have been able to expand by offering more customized expertise in certain areas rather than a broad array in services,” he said.
   
   The effort paid off when the company grew beyond a small business, as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration, in February 2001. But Miss Castillo says it is still “small” in her mind.
   
   “I’d say we’re still a small company until we can comfortably meet a $25 million to $30 million annual revenue level,” she said.
   
   CSSI has grown from a $2.5 million company with 25 workers in 1993 to 155 employees and revenue of $18.5 million in 2002. The company has expanded to offices in Herndon; Lexington Park, Md.; Egg Harbor Township, N.J.; Portsmouth, Va.; and Charleston, S.C.
   
   While Mr. Colligan would not release the company’s net income, he said the company has operated profitably since its founding, with a profit margin of 18.5 percent.
   
   Miss Castillo forecast 2003 revenue to reach $20 million to $25 million as the company recruits more full-time employees to handle growth in new and existing contracts.
   
   She added that she has never regretted her decision to lead a company she originally didn’t want.
   
   “I’d like to think my dad is looking down on me and is proud of what I’ve helped do here,” she said.

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