This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
As the aviation community looks to a post-pandemic return of air travel, Collins Aerospace has been forging ahead with a cross-company initiative, “Redefining Air Travel,” that is designed to bring new levels of confidence and safety moving forward.
Early into the pandemic, the company realized the some of the traditional approaches to air travel would need to change and formed a task force to explore ways to address demands for a new environment, said Colin Mahoney, who late last year became president of customer and account management at Collins Aerospace. The pandemic, Mahoney added, “hit home…it was going to change the way we behave in transportation forever.”
This meant changes throughout the ecosystem from leaving the front door to arriving at the destination, he said, and added with the breadth of Collins Aerospace's portfolio, “We felt it important that we assemble a task force to focus on what we could do to redefine the air travel experience and increase confidence in flying passengers.”
Mahoney noted the task force brought together experts in the various disciplines throughout the company’s broad portfolios to work together and alongside healthcare professionals to tackle the key concerns. Taskforce members have shared expertise and lessons-learned and worked to explore potential solutions across the commercial, business aviation, and military portfolios, he said. “Clearly commercial air transport is a very different environment from business aviation, but there are a number of parallels,” he stated, enabling cross-pollination of ideas and applications.
The company has focused on three basic buckets: expanding on areas where touchless technologies could be used, improving the environment where contact is unavoidable, and exploring how to improve the overall travel environment, Mahoney said.
Some of this research involves technologies Collins already has in place, he explained, citing as an example the use of applications to control cabin management systems. This is already available and in use in business aviation and to a degree commercial aviation, including downloading entertainment on a tablet or mobile phone. But the interest among customers has expanded and there are more possibilities for these technologies, he said. Mahoney pointed to many other areas that can be expanded such as bringing the touchless environments in place in restrooms in airports into the aircraft lavatory.
The initiative is exploring various means of sanitation and reducing risk for areas where touching cannot be avoided—for example, seating and tray tables. In these areas, the company is researching both built-in protections such as materials that would reduce adherence of pathogens and additional technologies such as the use of ultraviolet lights and other sanitation means.
As for the overall environment, he pointed to air filtration as a key area of focus, but he added this expands beyond the airplane. Collins has already conducted substantial research into touchless concepts in airports such as the use of biometric technologies and kiosks.
In addition, Collins is concerned about the overall travel environment. Mahoney noted that even if airlines and other operators regain customer confidence, rolling restrictions remain a risk for them. “That’s one of the big reasons why air travel may not fully return until 2023 or 2024,” he said, adding that the environment has changed so quickly that passengers have encountered different rules for the original flight and then the return trip. This has introduced some anxiety. Collins’s ArincDirect already has developed an application that provides real-time guidance on key travel requirements for the customer’s destination to make that process more seamless.
“We're trying to use this task force to think about the travel experience realistically, what can we do to make that secure and reduce anxiety,” he said.
In explaining the initiative, Collins noted, “Healthy air travel starts from the moment you step onto the airport curb, through the boarding and flight experience, and finally to when you step off the curb at your destination airport. It takes a multi-layered approach to ensure a consistently safe and healthy experience during that journey.”