With a new year underway and a particularly unpredictable year behind us, Connected Aviation Today reached out to aviation technology leaders to get a sense of what they see on the horizon for 2021 and beyond. Among the leaders we connected with was Mark Stokes, Business Unit Manager – SmartSuite at Brock Solutions. Stokes shared with us his thoughts on how airport operations will adjust to doing more with less and strive to re-establish confidence among travelers.

Here’s what he had to share with us in our conversation:

Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: Let’s sum up 2020 and how we move forward.

Brock Solutions
Mark Stokes, Business Unit Manager – SmartSuite at Brock Solutions

Mark Stokes: I would summarize it as a year of forced change. Essentially everybody in our space suddenly had to change direction and adapt. Many in the aviation industry went from full speed ahead, managing the absolute peak of volumes, to a near dead stop. That said, it’s given us the opportunity to refocus our efforts. And at Brock Solutions, we’ve been putting extra attention on our airport-facing solutions, making sure that we’re adding value to their operations in this critical time.

CAT Editors: There are a lot of opportunities for the connected ecosystem to evolve in 2021. What areas do you believe will see the most change?

Stokes: It’s going to be all about adjusting operations to do more with less. As business starts to come back, the airlines and airports are likely going to not bring back as many people as they had before. So how do you do more with your systems but with fewer employees?

When you look at baggage departments, for example, they’ve typically been disconnected islands of information with no real central repository. At Brock Solutions, we think that being able to connect all that data together and connect all those ecosystems gives our customers a really clear view of the baggage operation across their enterprise. They’ll be able to manage those assets with greater efficiency using fewer people, which ultimately is going to save them money in a time when that is absolutely crucial.

CAT Editors: How will the technology and adoption of technology evolve in 2021 and help move the aviation industry forward in a post-COVID world?

Stokes: We’re already seeing a strong push towards touchless travel. It’s a critical component of getting passengers comfortable traveling again. Some of the touchless travel technologies—like biometrics— will require centralization of the data across airport operations. This means these different systems (like touchless security, touchless boarding, and touchless gate processes) all need to be connected to make that touchless journey a reality. In the past, these processes were done via human interaction or physical exchange of paper, but I think that’s going to evolve into more self-service, supporting touchless (or contactless) travel. And to do that, you need to have a connected ecosystem.

CAT Editors: What are the most pressing challenges that you see on the horizon that could hinder progress if not addressed?

Stokes: The giant, not-so-secret elephant in the room is obviously budgets are tight right now. Airlines are fighting for their survival. In order to adopt the technology they need to survive, they need to show a clear and quick return on investment, or else those initiatives are just not going to get off the ground. A huge challenge on the horizon is going to be convincing folks to invest in these technologies in a time when purse strings are tight. This ties into my last response though, in that if passengers aren’t comfortable traveling yet, those technological adoptions are moot, and that ROI is tough to show.

Another challenge to consider is that a year ago, airports were bursting at the seams. Priorities were previously more focused on issues like terminal expansion or additional gates or bigger parking structures or faster baggage processing. Those problems are now on the back burner. Terminals are quite empty, and these new systems are not being utilized how they expected.

But, in a recent conversation with one of our customers, he offered an insightful perspective on the situation: we had the opportunity to see the future at the end of 2019, which is unmanageable volumes of traffic with our existing systems. We know what’s going to happen to our systems and our passenger flows and our facilities when those volumes come back. Now, we have some time to prepare and to adjust the course so we can avoid those problems we were inevitably facing in 2019.

CAT Editors: How would you summarize your predictions for 2021?

Stokes: It’s going to be the year of opportunity, and there will be opportunities that didn’t exist before. If you’re addressing components of the aviation ecosystem like passenger flow and baggage processing, the opportunity to help our customers properly utilize their systems and do more with less to get the job done is clear.