NEXTT Airport innovation against all odds: The passenger journey adapted for restart and recovery

Hannah Meredith by Hannah Meredith | Jun 3, 2021

In the past year, technological innovation in the aviation industry has seen more challenges than ever before.  Many airports have had to set these efforts and initiatives aside to focus on operational efficiency and safety.  And yet, innovation remains a critical component for airport success.  In this 3-part blog series I will be interviewing different aviation innovation leaders to look at some examples of challenges they have experienced when implementing innovative change and how they navigated their way to success despite many hurdles.  I will also get their thoughts on how these digital transformations have fared over the last year and how it can continue to propel airports further, especially as we recover from the effects of the pandemic. 

In our final blog of this series, I will be interviewing Éric Montplaisir from the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (MTL). Éric offers great insight on how to be flexible when innovating in order to use valuable time and resources as effectively as possible. 

Tell us about your role with your company and how long you have been there? 

I am the Deputy Director of Passenger Process Evolution.  I have been with the airport since 2008.  

Can you talk about an innovation project that you have worked on that experienced many hurdles to its success? 

We began a project to enroll passengers for biometric processes at the airport.  It was a voluntary process where the passenger would scan their passport and boarding pass at a kiosk, have their image taken, and thus creating a biometric identity.  We approached Air Canada and KLM for partnerships on this project because we were already partners for the next project phase with the KTDI initiative.  The purpose was to evaluate how this technology could benefit the passenger and the airline at the boarding stage.  Solution planning was completed and the project was ready to move to execution stage, then the COVID-19 pandemic began.  At that point, we had to reconsider if it was worth pursuing. 

Tell us about the challenges that the pandemic had on this project. Were you able to overcome them or did you have to change the direction of your efforts? 

Because of the pandemic, we did not have the critical mass of passengers that was needed to properly trial this technology.  We had to place this project on hold and focus our efforts on known traveler digital identity (KTDI).  KTDI brought in more partners and ultimately more value.  We continued to review the scope of KTDI.  Right now, one of the priorities for airlines is the development of a health credential. The KTDI consortium is reviewing the scope of this project for this purpose.  We are continually asking ourselves what the value is in the project and what the airlines and passengers need most. 

How has innovation in general been impacted by the pandemic? 

Based on a new set of objectives and values related to public health and safety, each innovation project had to be prioritized and decisions made on whether to continue the project, cancel, or postpone it.  We needed to focus our efforts on pilots that would help us reach the proper level of readiness in order to be best positioned for the recovery period. For example, some initiatives are underway for more touchless processes at check-in self-services.  We are looking into how we can modify our current assets, like kiosks, to integrate them with touchless technology. 

Looking forward, what innovations have you most excited for the future of the industry? 

Solutions that bring more integration and interconnection with the passenger to tailor their process and journey through the airport depending on their willingness to share trip information and trip preferences.  Improving business income and passenger experience are key drivers to innovation. Today this can be translated by providing the passenger the right information at the right time so they can better plan and prepare each step of their passenger journey.  This cannot be achieved only by the airport, collaborative data exchange with airlines and authorities becomes more and more important to raise operational efficiency and to bring business intelligence to the next level.

Hannah Meredith

Hannah Meredith

Advisor, NEXTT
Hannah Meredith serves as an advisor for the New Experience Travel Technologies (NEXTT) Initiative, formed by ACI and IATA. Hannah is the Manager of Terminal Services for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) where she focuses on elevating the customer experience and increasing terminal operation efficiency. Before joining CVG, Hannah held roles in Airport Operations at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Asheville Regional Airport (AVL). She holds a BS in Aerospace Management from Eastern Kentucky University.
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