Top three tips for export success

“Invest in a good reference case”

Fully 86 per cent of Norwegian Special Mission’s sales are from exports. Read how the company has become a global powerhouse within its niche.

Fully 86 per cent of Norwegian Special Mission’s sales are from exports. Read how the company has become a global powerhouse within its niche.

Norwegian Special Mission, which was one of the finalists for this year’s Export Prize, has developed a specialised calibration and monitoring system to ensure that airport communications, radar and navigation systems are operating as designed. The company’s system is mounted on aircraft that calibrate and test airport systems around the world.

“We have found our highly specialised niche. There are about 250 aircraft worldwide in this type of service. During the last five years we’ve delivered our system to about half of the available market in the period,” said Tom Sverstad, Director of Business Development at Norwegian Special Mission. Sverstad was one of the company’s founders, in 2003.

In 2016, Norwegian Special Mission posted sales of NOK 173 million, with 86 per cent stemming from export contracts. Brazil is the company’s largest export market. Norwegian Special Mission has 40 employees; it is headquartered at Gardermoen and reported an operating profit of NOK 11.5 million last year.

Sverstad is quick to reply when asked for advice on gaining an international foothold in a risky and relatively traditional industry, where many of the customers are air forces or civil aviation authorities:

“Invest time and money in getting a reference case,” he says. “Very few customers risk buying from a ‘new kid on the block’. You must take it upon yourself to prove your system works.”

Norwegian Special Mission obtained two reference cases before going after the international market. First, it supplied a system to its sister company, Sundt Air. Then it built a system for Iceland’s civil aviation authority. In essence the company executed a pilot project with the Icelanders, charging only for the materials that were purchased.

“As soon as we had a reference case, we contacted aviation authorities in just about every country in the world,” says Sverstad. “We sent letters, invited ourselves to presentations and travelled all over the place. We met with every customer we could find.”

Norwegian Special Mission has turned to Innovation Norway to find skilled local partners in international markets. In connection with large turnkey contracts, the company is in dialogue with Export Credit Norway for construction-period project financing.

Here are Sverstad’s top three tips for export success in an aviation-sector industry that’s heavy on specialisation and tradition:

  1. Be willing to invest your own time and money to secure a reference case and well-functioning installations.
  2. Have experienced professionals on your team. Customers enter into partnerships lasting for 15 to 20 years, so they seek stability and people who understand them. If you lack industry experience, ally yourself with partners who have it.
  3. Find good local partners. For example, in Europe “everyone” knows us. But outside Europe we depend on a skilled agent or distributor, someone who knows the customers, to tell us how the regional markets work and present our products in a positive way. To identify the right partner, ask for assistance from Innovation Norway.

In addition to the system for calibrating and monitoring airport-based navigation systems, Norwegian Special Mission has developed a system for airborne maritime and coastal surveillance. The system is used to search for oil spills and other types of emissions and to conduct fisheries supervision using radar, IR cameras and other equipment. The company has delivered the system to Sundt Air, which has two aircraft that perform missions for the Norwegian Coastal Administration, the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Oil Companies (Nofo), the Norwegian Coast Guard and the Danish Armed Forces.