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Photo submitted – Frank Matus acts as the moderator during a 2019 New York UAS Symposium at Griffis International Airport.
by Dave Warner
Frank Matus is the Thales Director of Digital Aviation Market Development for all of the Americas, and a 1996 graduate of Little Falls High School who is involved in some pretty interesting things in Syracuse.
After high school, he went to Syracuse University and got a degree in political science and worked for Assemblyman Marc Butler for a while.
Then he says, “I got a job in air traffic control. It was one of those things where you were in the right place at the right time. When I came back from my internship in Albany during my senior year at Syracuse, I got an internship with a technology consultant for the City of Syracuse.”
The man that he was working for was advising the company on how to grow their business. “I got exposed to a bunch of people who saw the kind of work I was doing and they wanted someone young who was open to travel,” he said.
Matus said that aviation runs in the family since his dad is a retired GE aerospace engineer and his oldest brother at the time was working for McDonald Douglas, and the brother’s wife was working for NASA.
“Getting into an aerospace and defense company seemed right. I love aviation and I’ve always been fascinated by it. It has been that way ever since the open houses at GE and the air shows at Griffis AFB and the old Oneida County airport in Oriskany,” said Matus.
So he went to work for the Sensis Corporation, where he learned international business development. He said that on his first trip overseas, he didn’t want to act like the ‘newbie’. “I’ll never forget looking out the window and seeing 747s drive past the little two-seaters that were flying back and forth to Kennedy. It was pretty cool to be exposed to that,” he stated.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, the FAA had a major problem with runway incursions, and Matus was involved in selling sensors for Sensis Corporation that dealt with the problem. “Our company had developed a technology that could reduce those incursions by blending radar and our technology together to give a controller a better view of where aircraft were on the surface of an airport,” he said. That technology is now deployed to over 100 airports worldwide.
Matus then went on to be the first program manager on a system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADSB). Their first deployment of the system was an area in Australia, which was better known for their rum than air traffic control technology. “But, it was the first time that a system like that had gone live anywhere in the world for tracking of aircraft,” Matus stated.
He said through that and other programs that were implemented in the area, he got a lot of positive exposure for his career.
Matus is now celebrating his 10th anniversary at Thales, which is a global organization of 80,000 people and one of the largest suppliers of airspace management tools. “The company has products that control about 40% of the world’s airspace,” he said
The chips on your credit cards he said are also one of their products as well as sim cards for cell phones.
Back in 2017, he was asked to lead a group in the US to investigate where Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology was going to go and how Thales could be a part of it. “A little over three years ago, I started a team in Syracuse in a group called digital aviation and we were looking at the transformation of today’s aviation equipment to where are we going to go. Something the FAA calls NextGen,” he stated.
They started to work with clients and partners in Central New York and set up a shop right back where he started, on the campus of Syracuse University. “It’s overlooking my first dorm room from 1996. It’s surreal to come full-circle and have an opportunity to grow part of a global business. We do $25 billion dollars a year in revenue,” said Matus.
He’s proud of the fact that what he is doing could have an impact on his home area. “It’s really kind of a humbling experience,” he stated.
Matus spends a lot of time working within the New York UAS corridor that was set up between Rome and Syracuse. “The governor had an initiative to try and attract autonomous systems and businesses to come and work in New York State. They invested in this corridor and Thales is one of the key providers of the technology.”
“We have now migrated to being the systems integrator. We’re looking at bringing technology and users to Central New York to prove out drone technology in novel ways. Whether that’s delivering packages or using drones to monitor construction of highways to actually taking medical samples from hospitals and delivering them to labs, we’re working on it,” he said.
They have partnered with the university to find new ways to work in aviation. “That partnership has been really good for us. It has allowed us to get exposure to the university and the programs that they and their students are working on. It’s also allowed us to grow our next-generation workforce,” he stated.
He said that the program is so successful, that they’ve now started exporting those ideas to other states and countries around the world.
Matus was nominated to be chairman of what is called the Blue Skies subcommittee initiative. “It’s a group that has been set up to basically reimagine the air traffic control system in the United States, post NextGen and post COVID. We’re coming up with strategies and approaches that will get us away from older technologies and how we can blend the airspace. Everything from drones to the existing air traffic system to urban mobility or advanced air mobility as they are now calling it, to commercial space to high altitude air traffic management.”
“We’re trying to get away from focusing on technology and focusing more on capabilities and functions. Getting away from large programs that drag on for decades and don’t really provide the benefits that an aviator is seeking for the amount of money that they put into their equipment,” said Matus.
“We’re trying to cut the FAAs procurement process down from seven years to one to two years when it comes to technology,” he stated.