The New Year often brings a new beginning and a fresh start to mind, even in the most established of industries. This time last year, we simply couldn’t have predicted what 2020 would bring. The year started off as one of the strongest in the commercial aviation industry, and within months, went into a tailspin. But as we start 2021, we look at a new beginning, and it brings with it hope, according to Joel Otto, a 35-year commercial aviation veteran, who sees opportunity on the horizon.

“COVID created a complete disruption and reset of this industry, but also of all of our lives,” Otto, Business Development and Strategy Executive for Collins, explained in a recent interview. “The disruption caused us all to reexamine and refocus on what matters most. My heart goes out to all of those people impacted and I hope we can look towards a stronger future in 2021.”

Otto’s underlying message of hope is one that impacts each stage of recovery for the industry. “To me, 2021 will be a year of hope,” he said. “Hope that the vaccines will have an impact and that passengers get their confidence back and return to travel. Beyond that, a hope for new and innovative approaches that will bring this industry back to something better than it was before 2020.”

Otto sees an opportunity to build back the commercial aviation industry starting from a new normal.

“Starting at the airport, we’ll see automation and flow control become big areas of focus in an effort to build passenger confidence and ensure their health and well-being,” he said. This includes leveraging technologies such as biometrics, RFID, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to create a more touch-free experience for travelers. While there is hope that a vaccine will soon become available, Otto pointed out that scientists expect other viruses could have a similar impact in the future, and developing these systems and solutions now, it will help future-proof airports.

Inside the aircraft, Otto highlights the new capabilities and enhancements to passenger cabins. The Collins Aerospace team has “spent a lot of time and energy with our customers on air management systems and air filtration,” Otto pointed out. He noted that while passengers are less fearful of the cabin than they are of being infected at their departure or destination point, many airlines have created systems to boost sanitation and safety protocols on board.

“We are seeing developments around analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, as the data from the airport, aircraft, and other systems connect and work together. We are reimagining the role that data can play in rebuilding the connected aviation ecosystem,” Otto said.

The pandemic also created an opportunity to refocus efforts on sustainability, Otto told us.  “Governments and industry are working together and putting more energy into how we make the industry more sustainable,” he said. “As an industry, we are now thinking about how we can pull forward carbon neutral targets from 2050 to more near term.”

As the possibilities continue to evolve for redefining the industry and its goals, Otto looked to one area that continued to flourish in 2020.  The demand for “new solutions for urban air mobility continues to grow and we see opportunities for new types of aircraft in the skies for package delivery and other things,” he said. “As we look ahead, this opens the door to integrating new entrants into the air transport system and learning to coexist and operate together.”

While 2020 may have been a year of disruption, there are still many challenges on the horizon as the aviation industry seeks solid footing. Yet, 2021 brings an opportunity to reset and reimagine, and that fills Otto with confidence that the industry will emerge better than before.