The Future of Aviation: The Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on Air Travel Innovations

Markets

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  • Technology

Subject

COVID-19's Influence on Air Travel

November 5, 2021

The aviation industry was hit hard by the pandemic, but there is a silver lining when this issue is viewed from an innovation angle. The pandemic is ushering in a new age of digital and automated technologies. This momentum presents a great opportunity for organizations to rethink their digital experiences in ways that are seamless, health-conscious, secure, automated, and personalized.

Airports of all sizes need to have a plan for their digital evolution to take advantage of this time when their board members, passengers, and stakeholders are asking for innovation. The sky is the limit for those with a knowledge of touchless technology and the network to get things done. Consider the following advancements:

1. Adopting touchless technology.

Touchless technology and personalization aren’t new concepts, but they grew more popular during the pandemic and will define the future of aviation. Passengers, workers, and employers desire less person-to-person interaction due to health concerns. And considering the proliferation of smartphones, people are expecting personalized information at their fingertips throughout their days.

This digital transformation of the customer experience has been evolving for years. In 2006, Disney launched a biometric initiative across its parks to streamline and personalize the visitor experience. Another significant milestone for biometrics occurred in 2013 when Apple added Touch ID to the iPhone, which generated awareness, interest, and greater consumer acceptance of people’s digital identities.

Touchless technology isn’t a new concept to aviation, either. The Department of Homeland Security launched the Apex Screening at Speed program to enable a seamless checkpoint experience. Using passive detection technologies, the program quickly and efficiently screens people for threats as they walk through the security portal.

Graphic rendition of airport check-in in the future from Apex Screening at Speed (SaS) Program

Fast forward to a post-pandemic world, and touchless technology is becoming the norm and a business imperative. Consider how the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport uses facial recognition technology. Future-forward airports should prioritize touchless experiences and redefine the customer experience in the next normal.

2. Welcoming self-service and autonomous innovations.

Self-service is a major component of the evolving passenger experience, and it is maturing at a rapid pace. A full 89% of airports offer self-service check-in options, and technology providers are working with airports, government partners, and the commercial airline industry to roll out solutions. These technological advances in aviation include biometric bag dropsfood delivery droids, and Transportation Security Administration screening time reservations.

Delta biometric-based self-service bag drop

Health safety becoming a priority during the pandemic also bolstered the use of autonomous systems for sanitization. For example, Pittsburgh International AirportGerald R. Ford International Airport, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport deployed autonomous robots to clean floors with disinfectants and/or ultraviolet light as a tangible demonstration of their commitment to passenger health.

3. Innovating Together.

The most successful technological advances in aviation have been driven through strong partnerships. For example, in 2016, Delta partnered with the TSA and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to deploy the first automated security lanes. The system streamlined security processing by extending divesting points, diverting alarmed bags to a separate inspection area, and automating the return of empty bins. Wait times were reduced, and the solution began rolling out across the aviation system.

Atlanta Airport TSA checkpoint

Historically, partnerships in aviation focused on coordination among airports, airlines, and government entities. But now, airports and the commercial airline industry are increasingly choosing to form flexible partnerships that promote speed and creativity to deploy new solutions. In contrast to a prescriptive formal approach, open partnerships align toward broader objectives and allow evolving solution deployments. For instance, over the pandemic, Denver International Airport entered a long-term partnership with Daon to deploy contactless solutions that enhance traveler confidence and streamline airport operations.

Moving Forward

The aviation industry can make the most of a tough situation by investing in touchless technology, autonomous innovations, and creative partnerships. These opportunities will define the future of aviation, so leaders can get ahead by exploring what’s possible.

Looking for a technology consultant and engineering firm with experience in the aviation sector? Click here to check out Ross & Baruzzini’s work in the space.

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Chris Runde is the head of corporate strategy and innovation at Ross & Baruzzini, a premier international technology consulting and engineering firm. He specializes in technology and analyzing its impact on infrastructure and security. Join him at the Future Travel Experience Global 2021 on December 7-9 at ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas as he discusses airport innovation in digital twins, autonomous systems, and robotics.