The aviation industry has seen its share of tough times, but never before has it experienced a global pandemic and the resulting impact on air travel. COVID-19 has not only brought travel to a halt, but it has also impacted every region around the world. As the world grapples with what post COVID-19 will look like, air travel recovery will require a phased approach to boost passenger confidence and ensure health safety.

“Unlike any other pandemic, this one is global, and we’ve seen drastic drops to passenger traffic at airports at the rate of 50 percent to over 90 percent, and no region has been spared,” Chris Forrest, vice president of airports systems at Collins Aerospace, told us in a recent interview. “As we look at air travel recovery, the key is to restore confidence in flying, and to do that, we need to restore confidence at the start of the passenger journey, which begins at the airport.”

Forrest breaks air travel recovery at the airport recovery into three tiers of implementation to boost passenger confidence:

Tier 1: Building on Biometrics for the Contactless Passenger Journey

In a post-COVID world, passengers will be weary of human-to-human contact and touching too many surfaces. So, the first step is for airports to enable a contactless passenger journey, Forrest explained.

“In this initial phase, an airport is looking to turn previous touch points into a contactless experience,” Forrest told us. “This changes the way we use self-service kiosks and eliminates the need of handing over documentation to airport personnel. Using your own mobile device to hold your single-token ID or take control of the functions of a check-in kiosk, the contactless passenger experience begins from the moment you enter the facility, at bag drop, through security, to the gate, all the way to boarding.”

The good news is that many airports have already explored biometric solutions and groups like IATA, ICAO, and ACI have already recommended the single-token biometric as part of the vision for the future. Therefore, the business case for the end-to-end single token journey already existed to increase airport throughput capacity, enhance security, and improve the customer experience. Now, that single-token biometric journey adds another justification by allowing passengers to have an end-to-end contactless solution in the airport, which also applies to the airport crew, staff, and vendors that also need to move safely throughout the facility and grounds.

To reduce queuing within an airport, off-airport bag drop solutions can be in place. “The transition to off airport baggage solutions has been a slow evolution,” Forrest noted. However, it has picked up interest as airports seek to alleviate processing passenger’s bag in the facility. The ability to have a bag drop at a hotel, train station, parking garage or rental car facility allows the passenger to bypass traditional airport check-in and bag drop processes and move directly to security and boarding. The passenger then collects their bags at their destination airport.

Tier 2: Health Monitoring and Alerting

The health of passengers embarking on their journey will be of great interest in a post-COVID world, and effective monitoring is another way to boost passenger confidence. While many passengers don’t show symptoms, others may present detectable signs of an illness. As passengers travel through the airport, existing biometric screening will be able to also scan for elevated temperatures or other symptoms, keeping other passengers safe from exposure. It not only applies to COVID, but also for future pandemics that may arise, Forrest noted.

“We are integrating the first phase of temperature checks into biometrics,” Forrest said. “The same units that scan the biometrics will now have a thermal temperature check camera integrated. As it scans, it will alert the passenger and staff member if a temperature threshold is detected and the passenger can then be diverted to a designated spot for additional testing.”

These units do not collect personal identifiable information or store that information in a database, Forrest pointed out. These integrated solutions will be available in the next few months. Yet, in the next six months it will advance beyond thermal testing to include other health data. “Triangulation of different biomarkers gives us a layered approach to better detect illnesses and ensure passenger safety,” Forrest said.

Phase 3: Managing Airport Traffic and Congestion with Artificial Intelligence

As a passenger travels through an airport in a post-COVID world, they will likely be wary of long lines and congested areas. Similarly, airport operations will also want to identify areas of congestion so that they can open new pathways and improve the overall flow of traffic.

“Soon we will be able to use artificial intelligence and business analytics to gather data across all of the airport systems and send alerts when traffic builds up,” Forrest explained. Not only can airports use this for planning and diverting traffic, but it could even be integrated into a “stop light” system for passengers. This system can identify when an area is at capacity, is getting near capacity, and while areas are clear for passing through.

“The one silver lining from all of this is the spark of creativity and innovation that we are seeing from the industry,” Forrest reflected. “While some of these technologies were in development, we’ve had to look at them in an entirely new way to make them work for air travel recovery in a post-COVID time. It is critical that the solutions brought forth minimize any adverse or costly impacts to airport and airlines applications and processes.” The current situation facing the industry is requiring innovation, determination and cooperation and many industry stakeholders are rising up to meet that challenge.

Shany Seawright

About Shany Seawright

A senior executive at Strategic Communications Group and Managing Editor of Connected Aviation Today, as well as other publications, Seawright oversees the editorial direction of the publication and managed the editorial staff.