How Collins Aerospace Has Pivoted To Health Tech To Help Aviation Survive COVID

The COVID crisis has presented a raft of challenges for the aviation sector. Slowly but surely, the industry is pulling through, but not without the help of technological innovators like Collins Aerospace. Simple Flying sat down (virtually, of course) with LeAnn Ridgeway, Vice President and General Manager of IMS for Collins to find out what the company has been doing and what’s coming next.

Collins Aerospace health technology
Collins has rapidly pivoted to health tech to assist the aerospace industry. Photo: Collins Aerospace

Spurring innovation

The outbreak of COVID has sent aerospace reeling. Despite sporadic eruptions of contagious diseases in the past, nothing has spread with quite the virility and lethality of COVID. The industry’s sheer unpreparedness for this situation has seen 95% of the global fleet grounded, financial crises of unprecedented proportions, and air travel grinding to almost a complete standstill.

Despite the initial shock, the sector is slowly but surely bouncing back. And it’s doing so with the help of a multitude of new technologies and innovations. One of the companies leading the way in developing these COVID combat tools is Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies company. A leading player in everything from seating to defense, Collins now finds itself making a swift pivot to health tech.

Simple Flying had the pleasure of catching up with LeAnn Ridgeway, Vice President and General Manager of Information Management Services for Collins Aerospace, to find out about some of the initiatives the company is involved with.

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Solving for today to future proof tomorrow

Much of the work Collins is doing right now is fairly far out of the company’s comfort zone. LeAnn discussed a range of innovations coming out of the company, from antimicrobial coatings for surfaces to rapid COVID testing. While much of this is new to the firm, it’s a challenge Collins is only too happy to accept.

Collins Aerospace health technology
Touchless check-in is just one of the Collins Aerospace projects. Photo: Collins Aerospace

Collins has projects of all shapes and sizes bubbling away on its proverbial stove. Touchless kiosks for travelers, airport management software to avoid queues and bottlenecks, UV sanitization solutions… the list goes on. Some of these issues were in the pipeline at Collins, while others are completely new.

“We had things like mobile controls and the contactless kiosk in our roadmap, but they were a way off. We’ve had to pull some projects forward and accelerate them. But then other things like UV sanitization and anti-microbial surfaces, we didn’t have those on our roadmaps prior to COVID. Who would have thought our company would have been involved in any kind of COVID rapid testing?”

Collins Aerospace health technology
The firm is also working on a touchless lavatory. Photo: Collins Aerospace

Comfort zone or not, Collins is taking up the mantle of getting us through the crisis with both hands. And it’s not just COVID-specific solutions either. LeAnn explained,

“You can solve for COVID, but COVID is probably not the last pandemic we’re going see, as is evidenced by MEARS and SARS etc. So, what we’ve been doing is approaching it systemically, and looking at what can we put in place that helps our industry today, but also will set us up for success in the future.”

Being proactive

One of the most interesting fields of research right now, in terms of both COVID and passenger experience, has to be biometrics. The touchless journey where our face is our passport is close to becoming a reality, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this tech. LeAnn told me,

“I’m really excited about what can be done with biometrics. It creates operational efficiencies. It had a strong business case that stood on its own pre-COVID, but now it has the potential to do so much more.”

Emirates facial recognition
Future biometrics could include checks for other biomarkers. Photo: Emirates

She explained that Collins is looking at integrating other biomarkers into the technology at the airport. Things like temperature screening, which have been a component of COVID safety, but also new measures such as respiratory rate, heart rate and more.

“These are all things that will improve the rate at which we can catch, not just COVID, but other respiratory illnesses before the person even gets on the plane.”

Undoubtedly, COVID has been a learning experience for us all. Perhaps, in the future, being more proactive about screening for disease will prevent this kind of disaster from happening on quite this magnitude again. With the work it is doing today, Collins is setting a firm foundation for the future.

Collins Aerospace health technology
Solving today’s problems will create a more robust tomorrow. Photo: Collins Aerospace

Whether a vaccine arrives or something else happens to remove the COVID risk, all this investment and innovation will serve to protect the world in the future too. LeAnn summed it up when she said,

“I get excited about the possibilities in this day of data. And I get that it comes with challenges. But I get excited about all the goodness that can bring to the health and safety of the globe.”

While COVID has knocked the wind out of the aviation sector today, the notion of building back better has never been stronger. We’re excited to see what the new normal for air travel will be.