A Southwest Airlines aircraft takes off from Pittsburgh International Airport. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Airport CEO: Innovation Will Spark Strong Recovery

It’s a clever idea, incorporating ultraviolet lights on autonomous floor scrubbers to help disinfect and kill germs.

But until now, it hasn’t been done in U.S. airports. This type of UV technology is already used in hospitals, but testing its effectiveness in the domestic aviation industry has only now come to the forefront thanks, in part, to a Pittsburgh robotics firm.

As our country and the world start to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry must embrace these kinds of innovative solutions to ensure the health and safety of its workers and the traveling public.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the travel industry went through a major transformation, with a new focus on security. Now, we are facing an even bigger recovery challenge with another major transformation upcoming—this one focused on public health.

Airports, including PIT, are considering and adopting new practices for returning travelers in the new normal, everything from incorporating social distancing throughout the terminal and installing plastic shield barriers to placing more spacing between seats and increasing touchless transactions.

More details will be introduced in the coming weeks, but even more will be required to continue building public confidence. That’s why our airport is looking to our region’s strengths in allowing Pittsburgh to do what it does best—innovation and reinvention.

Before COVID-19, talking about a UV strategy seemed like it would be a nice-to-have. Now it’s a must-have. And what made it easier for us is that we didn’t have to look very far. Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robotics is our partner in testing and deploying self-driving scrubbers with UV lights designed to kill microbes, including viruses and bacteria.

That type of world-leading robotics technology and UV innovation is emblematic of the new Pittsburgh. It’s those types of ideas and reinvention that our region, and airport, have become known for.

We know that a UV strategy is just the first step, and the scrubbers are a part of it. We’re looking to deploy UV technology to disinfect escalator and people-mover handrails, elevator buttons and much more. More tech solutions will be forthcoming.

As an airport, we can do a lot. And we are. However, it will take an industry-wide set of solutions we can all agree to in order to make a meaningful difference for our employees, flight crews, partners and passengers. We need airports, airlines and regulatory partners worldwide to quickly decide on common standards to make sure that everyone is safe on all parts of the travel journey.

It’s these types of ideas—implementing best practices from other industries and developing new solutions—that will be essential for the travel industry to recover.

And recover it will. There’s always a client to meet, a wedding to attend or a dream vacation to take. Incorporating outside-the-box thinking into the top priorities of public health, safety and security will help get us there—with some Pittsburgh innovation along the way.

Christina Cassotis is CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport.

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