Did you know that Carenado is one of our most searched keywords? It got us thinking, what if we interviewed Carenado about some general themes and topics that often come up in our comments section after a product announcement is posted. The SAAB preview article had a lot of great discussion so we put together a half dozen questions and reached out to the CEO and co-founder of Carenado.
We really appreciate Fernando Herrera (CEO and co-founder of Carenado) taking the time to provide some great responses to these questions and some insight into the development and design philosophies behind their business. As an owner of their products, they're a great product in my extensive virtual hangar.
For our readers: Do you like the idea of developer interviews? Would you like to see more of these? Any questions that we omitted?
This is a direct copy and paste of my questions and his answers.
Q1 – Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your role with Carenado and how you got started with the company? What drew you to designing add-on software for flight simulation?
I appreciate your question but I would like to focus more on the company, I find more interesting for readers, Carenado is a company with many people behind, highlighting me or one of them is not fair for the rest of the team.
We are a great team of very talented people in different areas of knowledge but with something in common, we love what we do, and we love the planes.
Q2 – Alabeo is a newer company (6 years old) versus Carenado which is closing in on 20 years in the business. What was the intention behind creating Alabeo and how does their product roadmap different from Carenado?
Carenado and Alabeo are not the same company as many people think. They have many things in common such as the commercial and administrative department, but the development team is not the same.
Alabeo was initially created to develop playful and cheaper aircraft than Carenado. In its beginnings, Alabeo developed vintage, aerobatic, crop-duster, trainer, historic aircraft and even a light helicopter. But in time, as Carenado started to gone up to bigger aircraft (commuters, regionals and jets), Alabeo have been covering the GA aircraft niche that Carenado has been leaving behind.
Q3 – Carenado has an extensive library of aircraft they’ve recreated for flight simulation ranging from a Cessna 172 all the way up to the Beechcraft 1900D and Dornier 228. Not to mention a diverse fleet of business jets! There’s also some rather large aircraft that have been teased to customers via your Facebook in the past several months, such as the SAAB 340 and the Fokker 50. How does your team decide which plane to tackle next? Any aircraft types or models you’re never touch? Any projects that never got off the ground that your team wanted to do?
Decision of any aircraft is based on several dimensions such as commercial feasibility, popularity, attractiveness, availability to take pictures and to the manuals; and access to real pilots of that aircraft among others important points. We have many years of experience and we reach a point where we have a ranking system for deciding if a product will be good or bad in term of sales and acceptation.
Our business is based in releasing the best projects based on what I mentioned previously.
We have the ability to develop any aircraft we want, however, our business model focuses on a defined number of projects per year with a predefined complexity / quality.
We do not want to spend years developing an aircraft as other companies do, or put emphasis in features that our customers don´t want or don´t have time to learn/study because they are complex systems. We have a very defined market segment and we strive to provide the best product we can for it. We have a very defined market segment and we strive to provide the best product we can for it.
All the projects we have started have been completed, in all of our history we have never abandoned any project.
Q4 – When you decide on an aircraft what sort of release management cycle do you plan? Is it a “it’s done when it’s done” approach or are specific release timetables set for your team?
It is a planed process. We have defined a very detailed development process which we strictly follow for each aircraft. Several control points and checks are done to each element of the product in different stages. Procedures and checklists are documented and followed by an in-house developed software which help us to coordinate all the different teams and projects (currently about 8).
We have a timetable for each product and we strive to follow it, but as any big project delays and unforeseen issues are “normal”. We release it when it is done without forgetting our target audience, but inside a reasonable timeframe.
Q5 – Speaking of the team, how many people typically work on a project? Are they all in-house employees or are some outsourced?
It is a mix of both. We have a headquarters where most of our people are. Our team "at home" are 15 people, plus we have people hired that work from all around the world. Some of them are hired and others are hired by projects. We are very flexible about people. The most important thing is having the best ones, and have a passion for what they do.
Q6 – Your products are known throughout the flight simulation community as one of the best when it comes to visuals, both inside and outside the captain’s chair. However, on the flip side, the task involved with repainting a Carenado aircraft is seen as a near herculean effort if not an impossible task (for many). Why is that? Any consideration to a “re-painter friendly” template?
The times we have is very tight, we do the UV layout in this part of development almost automatically, this causes the elements to be in disarray, but on the other hand greatly accelerates the development time, however, it has implications like the one you mention.
Carenado uses the latest modeling techniques on our planes, all of them are painted in 3D, the time in these kinds of decisions is what finally prevails, we apologize to repainters, but we must do this to achieve our goals.
Q7 – If you could rank the following five areas in order, how would you place them?
- Engine simulation / real world “by the numbers” performance
- Visual fidelity
- Paint kit
- Avionics functionality / real world performance
- 3D interactive cockpits
That is a tricky question. It is impossible to prioritize them, because it could harm the others. What we try to achieve is a good representation of the overall aircraft, probably not 100% in each of the above points but 85%-90% as a whole aircraft.
We have to think in several simulator platforms for defining an aircraft and our current development platforms (FSX, P3D, X-Plane, Steam) don´t allow a 100% aircraft representation in all the areas due to their limitations as simulators.
Q8 – Many of the Carenado aircraft offer 3rd party avionic integration with products like the Flight1 GTN series and the Reality XP products. Some of your products use a Garmin 1000 with Navigraph support and lastly some of your products have an FMS/FMC option. How does your team decide which to offer and when?
It is mainly a commercial decision based on information gathered from several sources. The seriousness of the company behind the third party product is very important because we need them to develop the integration.
Q9 – There’s an active community on AVSIM that buys your products and discusses them regularly (I’m one of them). Within that community are individuals who “mod” your product to enable functionality that either does not work as expected or could, in their opinion, work better with some XML tweaks. How helpful is that feedback and development to your product development? Has Carenado ever thought of involving them as a sort of “beta” tester?
Before answering this question, is very important to understand that in order to reach a similar customer experience to all simulators it is fundamental to define whether we go for the 100% functional instrument or chose the default programming libraries. There are thousands of computers, peripherals, video cards and flight controls by mentioning some, which complicate functional development for all of them in a good way.
Having said that, I could say that we read some customer’s comments in forums. Their feedback is very important, but not always correct. Some people post topics about how they would like a particular instrument to work, not how it actually works. We have to ponder each comment.
Our current beta team is 100% internal because we have defined that it should be that way for several reasons that I prefer to ignore in this interview for not boring the readers with technical or commercial things.
Q10 – On the topic of testers. Do all your products go through a validation/testing phase with real world pilots? A single pilot or multiple pilots? How many hours do those individuals typical test and validate your products?
Yes, all our products are tested by real pilots. It depends on the aircraft if it tested by single or multi engine pilots. These tests are being done at the very end, once the product is almost finished.
The number of hours will depend for each aircraft, but it will never go below 45-60 hours per real pilot. You have to add that to the hours of our own beta team.
Q11 – Some of the feedback that I see on various websites is related to avionic and flight management functionality frustrations (FLC/IAS is a regular topic). How much develop work is done during integration and development of your products to “make it work correctly” beyond leveraging the default functionality of FSX/P3D and X-Plane platforms?
This is a very good question. There is a lot of work behind each instrument. Our goal is developing instruments that could be easily operated by most of the people. In that regard we have to simplify some complex features in order to reduce the learning curve and make them easy to use for the people.
As I previously mentioned, we try to avoid developing parallel systems (systems that use different than default simulator variables), because that causes that external hardware don’t work at they should and porting an aircraft to other platform could be difficult. This concern limits our developing/integration options of certain instruments because we have to use default functionality for simulator platforms.
Complexity multiplies when you add third party avionics (GTN750, GN430, GNS530, Navigraph) and offer different options (Lite Versions, extension packs, etc).
Q12 – Continuing with the above question, what would you say is the hardest functionality to integrate into one of your products?
I would say that the hardest is making all of them working nicely together. We have noted that each element could work fine separately, but when you integrate them they usually don’t work together as they should, specially in early stages of integration.
Q13 – Has Carenado ever considered developing or collaborating with another developer to create a “study level” simulation product?
I do not rule it out, but today we are focused on internal development with our own resources.
We think that most of our aircraft are a very good representation of the real one and are more than enough for familiarization with the cockpit, practice procedures, know the aircraft and its features and for having a very good flight representation.
Our goal is to provide a real, but simplified flight experience to our market, which is in turn where is the bulk of the market simulation.
Q14 – Where do you see the flight simulation market being in 3-5 years. What do you envision Carenado’s role in that market?
3-5 years in this market is very long term….but I see 2 simulating platform leading the pack: an evolution of the current X-Plane platform and an evolution of the original FSX platform (P3D or FSW).
Laminar with X-Plane have been improving a lot with it last release. They will continue as a very good option for all the people who have or will have MAC computers.
In the FSX/P3D/FSW world, the winner will be the one with evolves from the original FSX without resigning compatibility with previous versions. Many customers have already invested a lot of money in several add-ons on this platform and they do not want to lose all the money they have invested in add-ons easily.
Carenado and Alabeo, will be there for any of the current or future platforms providing all our aircraft for all of them. The customer chooses the platform, and we provide the aircraft for that platform.