LeAnn Ridgeway of Collins Aerospace: “People are increasingly aware of their surroundings”

We are currently exploring the integration of health metrics into airport technology. For example, adding automated, contactless, thermal temperature screening, and other vital health measurements such as respiratory level and heart rate of passengers before flying. The combination of multiple screening capabilities may improve the detection of a significant respiratory health-related issue. As part of […]

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We are currently exploring the integration of health metrics into airport technology. For example, adding automated, contactless, thermal temperature screening, and other vital health measurements such as respiratory level and heart rate of passengers before flying. The combination of multiple screening capabilities may improve the detection of a significant respiratory health-related issue.

As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel,” I had the pleasure of interviewing LeAnn Ridgeway. LeAnn Ridgeway is vice president and general manager of Information Management Services (IMS) for Collins Aerospace. In this role, to which she was appointed in October 2018, she is responsible for leading the IMS business, including aviation network services and ground systems, flight support and communications services and information processing. In addition, LeAnn is currently leading the Collins Aerospace Redefining Air Travel task force aimed at restoring confidence in travel. LeAnn Ridgeway earned her bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics from Mt. Mercy College. She earned her master of business administration degree from St. Ambrose University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am a second-generation Aerospace employee. I followed in my parent’s footsteps after hearing all the fascinating stories of what they were involved with — from how Collins helped the world hear Neil Armstrong’s famous first words from the moon, to all of the fabulous locations they got to travel to around the globe. It’s safe to say I was hooked on the Aerospace industry at an early age.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It’s hard to pick just one. Early in my career, I took my very first business trip to our service center in Wichita, Kansas. Prior to that trip, I had probably only flown a couple of times in my life, so it was all very new and exciting. While I was on that trip, one of our Customer Service Engineers asked me if I wanted to see the new Beechcraft Starship. Of course, I said yes! If you are familiar with that plane, it was a very unique design both in terms of engineering and aesthetics. While we were looking inside the cockpit at the avionics the pilot jumped in and asked if we wanted to go up for a ride. It was an unforgettable experience and yet another reason I love this industry.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was at a business dinner in Asia and the menu was pre-ordered so I didn’t know much about each delicious dish I was eating. After dinner, I moved over with a translator to have a chat with the chairman. He asked me how I enjoyed my dinner. I replied that I enjoyed it very much. He then asked me if I had ever had pufferfish before. I imagine the chairman still laughs about the expression on my face to this day. Pufferfish is famous for how careful it must be prepared in order to keep it from being poisonous. After my initial shock, I asked the chairman how he knows the fish is safe to eat? His reply, “I watched you eat it first.” I walked right into that one and we had a good laugh. You can bet I always ask now if I am not sure what I am about to eat.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

You must take your vacation or PTO time. Don’t lose it. You need it to rest and recharge. I try to at least once a year to get somewhere where mobile devices can’t follow me. I like to SCUBA Dive and the quiet, beauty, peace and serenity does wonders for me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am grateful for two. The first is Kent Statler, a former President at Collins Aerospace, who sponsored me along my career and taught me a great deal about leading a dynamic and innovative business. The second is Marsha Schulte, one of the early pioneers of female leaders in our company. She always had time to share her tips, tricks and wisdom for navigating business as a female in a predominantly male industry.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am so proud of what our industry does and how it is the backbone of the global economy. Most people think about Commercial Aviation in three areas: Business Travel, Personal Vacations and Cargo. I think it is so much more. For example, our ability to get a parent home for the birth of a child; the ability to get a person home in time for a final good-bye; the ability to distribute time-sensitive vaccinations around the globe; the ability for people to connect with different cultures and to learn and grow in acceptance of differences and diversity. Those are the examples of goodness I am most proud of.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?

Today, Collins Aerospace plays a role in nearly every aspect of the passenger journey, from check-in to baggage drop to security and boarding in the airport. Once on-board the aircraft, nearly every touchpoint passengers contact is provided by Collins; including connectivity and wireless entertainment, seating, lighting, lavatories, air management systems, galley inserts where food is prepared and much more.

In the near term, we are looking at utilizing the technologies that we have available today to adapt the passenger experience in light of COVID-19. For example, it’s entirely possible with existing technology to have a contactless journey through the airport with self-service solutions: including check-in, baggage processing and baggage drops, security checkpoints and self-boarding gates. On board the aircraft, there will be touchless lavatories and high touch areas like seating and trays will have new antimicrobial surfaces. These technologies will enable greater social distancing, limit the level of contamination of high-touch products and accelerate to full airport experience. These elements of the passenger experience will change over the next few years to create a more seamless journey.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing these innovations?

Passengers want to feel like their journey is a safe one, from check-in to in-flight to baggage claim. To increase passenger confidence, we must educate the public about the safety measures in place today, create an ongoing, consistent experience for those flying anywhere in the world, and be prepared for the challenges of adapting to a post-COVID environment. Now, airports are high-touch areas, from passing through security to sharing your ticket with gate agents to touching your luggage. Addressing these challenges calls for innovation at every level. Rethinking the use cases for existing technologies can help address the issue resulting in a safer experience.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

Technology will play a significant role in updating airport travel policies and procedures in a post-COVID-19 world. While the tiers of airport recovery will stretch out over the better part of three years, with an anticipated full return to pre-pandemic levels of travel by 2024, the first step is to create a contactless passenger journey.

We must also drive a consistent passenger experience, as flyers may be shaken if they don’t see similar technologies and procedures when traveling through significant airports and different airlines. In the long term, airports, airlines, suppliers, medical experts and government agencies must unite to create a change that is experienced curb to curb — from airport arrival through boarding and the flight itself to the destination airport exit.

Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the Air Travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.

We’re working on a number of exciting technologies both in the aircraft cabin and on the ground. In the airport, contactless gate, baggage drop and check-in significantly limits shared touchpoints, while integrated health metrics technology like thermal temperature screenings, respiratory level and heart rate monitoring can improve detection of health-related issues. The most recent technology that is emerging is a global health passport, that will digitize testing results and vaccinations for passengers. On-board the aircraft we’re developing the cabin of the future with advanced solutions that reduce touch and control active pathogens; including integrated sensor and infrared technology in lavatories to create a more touchless experience, antimicrobial surface coatings that inhibit bacterial and viral growth, as well as both natural and artificial lighting systems that work to actively control pathogens in the cabin environment.

With all new solutions, there needs to be a way to incorporate them into existing systems, and they must be cost-effective and minimize changes to airline/airport applications and processes. Integrating into current processes and current airport and airline systems will be the best path forward.

As you know, the Pandemic changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the Pandemic has specifically impacted Air Travel?

There are customers right now who have limited or stopped their traveling due to believing the idea that it’s unsafe to fly. The business and leisure travel markets have slowed down without travelers taking trips, fewer operating flights and planes traveling to more intentional areas, cutting down on flights. Business travel, which makes up the greater majority of travel, has halted almost entirely with meetings going remote and employees shifting to telecommuting. When business travel returns, it will be at a small fraction of what it was before the pandemic. Because of this, the focus for airlines has shifted towards ensuring the passengers who do fly feel comfortable and safe. What’s most important to passengers right now is maintaining cleanliness and reducing touchpoints. People are paying closer attention to all the touchpoints they come in contact with and they want assurances that the spaces they occupy are clean and healthy for them and others. Industry surveys show that passengers, with new assurances of health safety are ready to travel in the next 6 months. They are looking for assurances that quarantines will be dropped, and borders will be open when they travel. We believe that these digital health passports that document test results and vaccination status will be a conduit to restarting the industry.

Can you share five examples of how the Air Travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the Pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.

  1. We are currently exploring the integration of health metrics into airport technology. For example, adding automated, contactless, thermal temperature screening, and other vital health measurements such as respiratory level and heart rate of passengers before flying. The combination of multiple screening capabilities may improve the detection of a significant respiratory health-related issue.
  2. There is also a need to create a touchless experience that eliminates high-touch areas by enabling contactless boarding passes. This can be done through a single token-based journey that takes a passenger’s biometrics — typically a facial image — and ties it to the passenger’s boarding pass or passport, and in the future, the health passport. Once enrolled, facial recognition enables the passenger to securely move through each touchpoint of the airport using their biometric as the travel token. This means that you would be able to walk into the airport, check-in, drop your bag, proceed through security, enter the airport lounge, buy a water at the concession stand, and board the plane- all by using your face, never producing a document or touching a thing.
  3. Collins Aerospace is collaborating with key research institutions and aircraft manufacturers to determine the effectiveness of light sources to sanitize aircraft interiors and flight decks. These lighting systems act in several areas to disable pathogens. Natural light spectrum in the 405nm spectrum will actively control pathogens in the cabin environment while passengers are present. Advanced technologies including 222nm UV, also known as far-UVC light, targets areas of the aircraft with higher sanitization needs including lavatories, galleys and cockpits. The lighting technologies, together with the advanced antimicrobial coatings, work together to provide a more hygienic on-board environment.
  4. We’re working with aircraft manufacturers and airlines to develop the technology roadmaps of the future when it comes to more sanitary, touchless and connected solutions. Take for instance our history of work in cabin lavatories: we’ve already provided our customers with an improved and more sanitary toilet that is backwards compatible to current solutions as well as lavatories that offer significant space savings. Building on those developments, we’re launching our full suite of touchless lavatory options in the second quarter of this year — not only improving the sanitary conditions of the restroom but giving manufacturers and airlines the ability to quickly upgrade at their own pace as these solutions are all line replaceable options.
  5. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people are increasingly aware of their surroundings. This includes greater attention to air quality. Air travel passengers are no different. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters have received a lot of press in recent months — the solution is commonly utilized in health centers and traps at least 99.97% of particles whose diameter is equal to 0.3 micron, the most penetrating particle size — and while most larger, modern jets have HEPA filtering pre-installed as part of their air management systems; many smaller, regional-sized aircraft do not.

Collins Aerospace recognized this and developed a drop-in HEPA filtering solution that met the needs of our customers. We launched our initial solution for the Dash 8 (-100/-200/-300) family but are currently evaluating drop-in HEPA solutions for airlines that operate similar-sized fleets.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Improving the growing hunger problem. A powerful movement would be for an app to allow all modes of logistics to be linked (even personal cars), to show where there is available space that could move food free of charge from areas of excess to areas of need.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow our LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/collins-aerospace/

And check out our website: https://www.collinsaerospace.com/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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