Research Projects

Guide to Airport Innovation – Creating an Organizational Fit for the Future In Reserve

Airport teams are ramping up innovation labs, centers and executive level positions to support critical thinking, strategy and innovation. Airports need an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly assessable, that can integrate into all aspects of the business and region, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and have a meaningful impact in the aviation industry.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Adjusting to and planning for the ever-changing airport environment is increasingly difficult. Examples of recent changes include: the connected traveler, airport cities becoming a reality, the way big data is revolutionizing airport business models, and airport concessions/retail having new business paradigms, to name just a few. To respond, we need new innovative choices; new products and services that balance the needs of the passengers and airport-wide stakeholders; new ideas that tackle the technocentric challenges of information, communication and technology; new strategies that result in differences that matter and provide a sense of purpose that engage everyone affected by them.

Airport teams are ramping up innovation labs, centers and executive level positions to support critical thinking, strategy and innovation. Airports need an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly assessable, that can integrate into all aspects of the business and region, and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that are implemented and have a meaningful impact in the aviation industry.

The challenge is that airports struggle to be innovative themselves. The good news is that many do acknowledge they have a problem with being innovative and it has become an industry focus. For example, in January, ACI-NA hosted its first Airport Innovation Conference, while AAAE has hosted an Innovation Conference for just the past two years, and a Future Traveler Experience Conference (European Sponsor) is held in the US each year. ACRP also recognizes the need for drawing out innovations at airports with its recent RFP, 11-02/Task 37 "Periodic Report on Transformative Technology at Airports".

An initial observation from the recent ACI-NA Innovation Conferences is, that there is a growing gap between airports that innovate as a part of its culture, and those that don't. In the minority are those that claim a mature innovation approach through the organization and culture, showing even that failure in applying innovations can lead to ultimate success. While the vast majority, hold to the skepticism surrounding innovation, as evidenced by the following statement made: "There are some powerful barriers, political risk and public scrutiny that have a specific impact on public sector innovation. Airports are judged on their success, and in seeking to avoid criticism or failure, they can be conservative or resistant to innovative approaches. Political risk also contributes to risk-averse attitudes among public servants, and innovation is inherently risky. In the public sector, failures tend to happen in the full glare of public scrutiny, with consequential risks for the reputations and careers of public servants. It can be easier to avoid criticism by not taking risks." This is indeed telling. It means that for innovation to be successfully implemented in the public sector, significant public sector reform and culture change is required.

Changing airport culture can be challenging when leveraging innovative ideas. Every airport has a different view of innovation within their existing culture. Innovation starts with the executive management at each airport and requires buy-in. Key questions related to innovation include: What is your airport trying to achieve? What are the organizational goals? Does your airport have an innovative culture and the resources to become innovative? Are you incentivizing employees to be innovative and rewarding them for this behavior? What does an innovation team look like at an airport?
There are many different ways to structure an innovation program at an airport. The innovation team could be completely separate from the organization or the innovation program could be completely embedded within departments. No one size fits all. Some questions to consider: How can innovation be a part of the way an airport operates? How is an innovation team organized and what roles need to be created? How do you govern the innovation process? Do you need to create a separate entity for innovation to avoid procurement and implementation challenges?
To answer these questions requires airports to plan for innovation to ensure it occurs. One way this can be accomplished is through guidance that is essentially "a strategic plan innovation." The Innovation Guidebook (or Playbook) being proposed for this would contain information that would be the equivalent of asking "to pass the innovation secret sauce." This Innovation Guidebook/Playbook could then be applied in all airport areas such as master planning, business plans, sustainably plans, emergency plans, etc. so that airports can begin to do great things.

To start the discussion on an Airport Innovation Guidebook/Playbook, airport executives must first understand how innovations are a critical component to the overall vision. From this understanding, executives begin to drive the importance of the vision, or the resistance to change and feelings of past dissatisfaction. The Innovation Guidebook/Playbook could assist in overcoming the resistance to change by planning out a means for innovative change to take place, thus establishing a road map, starting with the important first steps.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)
  1. Kickoff web meeting with ACRP project panel
  2. North America Airport Innovation Assessment – status of current state ** see preliminary list below.
  3. Case Studies/User Cases
  4. Research on Innovation Centers/Labs; identify successes
  5. Design and validate a structured process for gaining traction for an airport innovative culture
  6. Outside Industry Case Studies for Innovation Guidebook/Playbook
  7. Final Deliverable: Airport Innovation Guidebook/Playbook
Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

$300,000

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

RFP, 11-02/Task 37 "Periodic Report on Transformative Technology at Airports".

Annotations
Idea No. 188