It’s no secret: 2020 was a hard year for the aviation industry. An unprecedented global pandemic requiring national lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing measures has kept travelers at bay. The domino effect from this loss of revenue has forced many airports to hit pause on many large-scale construction projects or cancel them altogether. In the face of so many unknown variables, it’s a challenge to not only plan for the future, but also remain flexible and optimistic in the present. Everyone is asking: how do we move forward?
If we look back to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, we can remember this isn’t the first time the aviation industry has been on the rebound. Before the September 11th attacks, going through airport security was almost an afterthought—no taking off shoes, separating and rationing liquids, or isolating electronics. Family and friends were even allowed to meet or wait with passengers at the gate. But things change, and the aviation industry responded with new global security measures that are still in place today. By banding together and putting passenger safety and comfort at the forefront, aviation stakeholders adapted to the new normal and eventually, over time, the market came back stronger than before.
Healing of any kind takes patience and resilience. We’ve been called on, again, to respond to tragedy with innovation, ingenuity and proactive implementation. As 2020 wore on, airlines instituted robust health measures: increased air circulation in airplanes, empty middle seats, meticulous sanitation procedures and plexiglass barriers. Many pilot programs sprung up at airports across the country, too, all with the aim of protecting and restoring the confidence of passengers, airport workers and the public at large.
For example, at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, biometric face-scanning technology offers an automated, touchless method of identity verification. With a quick self-scan of a passenger’s face, information such as photos, ID authentication and flight information is available to TSA agents immediately, decreasing human interaction and the potential for spreading COVID-19.
In addition, travelers may already be familiar with CLEAR, a private security company that offers an optional biometric screening procedure in lieu of going through traditional TSA checkpoints at most major airports. Its original intent was to decrease wait times through security and enhance the passenger processing experience. Now, expanding on its current technology, CLEAR released a new product called Health Pass that links COVID-19 health information to biometric identifiers, including test results, making it quicker and easier to identify travelers who pose a health risk, as well as incorporating contactless technology so employees and passengers don’t need to touch potentially risky digital menus.
Los Angeles International Airport’s pilot program is centered around thermal screening, where signs direct passengers to walk past special cameras capable of detecting whether someone has an elevated temperature or fever. Those who show temperature elevation are pulled aside for a secondary screening to confirm and then given advice from federal health officials via airport workers regarding safe traveling recommendations.
These and other pilot programs are just the beginning. Technology will continue to advance and improve, worker efficiency will increase, and passengers will adapt as they have before. What we don’t always see in the news is how many aviation industry professionals are behind the scenes, brainstorming together and working pro bono in some cases to stabilize the market and support one another.
We have a new year ahead, which means new beginnings, new opportunities, new chances to improve the aviation and construction industries together. Any processes and procedures we put into place now will be a bulwark protecting us against future threats and will benefit everyone—travelers and the general public alike.
How do we move forward? One flight at a time.