A Change Agent for Airports
Looking down on the shrinking city through his window, Bryan Helaire sunk into his seat and began thinking. Although he’s been working in airports for nearly two decades, each time he travels it is a contemplative journey. As a frequent passenger, he gets to experience how systems, infrastructure, policies, and much more come together to shape the passenger experience. He can’t help but spot opportunities to leverage technology in his unrelenting quest for the ideal.
The airport industry has always been on the leading edge of tech, but this is an unprecedented era of innovation. Cybersecurity, biometrics, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and other emerging technologies are at the forefront for airport CIOs, CTOs, and IT Directors. What seemed like science fiction not long ago is becoming reality. Some airports are already piloting or implementing drones, autonomous vehicles, robots, and facial recognition.
“It’s an exciting time for technologists. What had been considered the future is the present,” said Helaire, who recently joined GCR as Vice President of Customer Experience where he will head up user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) for airports. “Airports want innovation where it adds real value, providing quality service and elevating the experience of the passenger.”
A big grin grows across his face as he talks about how airports are uncovering the possibilities of Internet of Things, AI, biometrics, and other IT solutions.
He said, “Airports that embrace technology and innovation as core competencies will be able to quickly meet the demands of their customers. Think about how quickly the world adopted utilizing smart phones for payment transactions or as identification to gain access. Those airports that were frontrunners, on an average, received higher customer experience ratings. So, what’s next? As long as customers are comforted with knowing they control their data, they will continue to desire a touchless environment. Facial recognition is already being piloted in the boarding process. Imagine the customer wanting to have that experience at every touch point, from parking to check-in, dining, and boarding.”
As an early adopter and advocate for tech, Helaire has been on the leading edge of airport innovation. As the Assistant Director for Applications and Support at the Houston Airport System, he worked alongside GCR to decrease processing times for arriving international travelers, from 32 minutes down to 16, by deploying Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks. The highly successful program expanded to a global market.
“If integrated in a meaningful way, technology can have a significant impact on both, the customer experience and operations,” said Helaire, who most recently served as the Director of Information Technology for the Jackson Airport Authority in Miss.
There, in response to the growing lines that came with the addition of new air services, he deployed LIDAR (motion analytics) to continuously inform travelers of expected wait times at TSA security checkpoints.
“Research told us that if passengers had a sense of how long they’d be waiting, it could potentially reduce anxiety levels. The biggest impact, though, was equipping the local TSA and airport management with valuable data to make informed decisions during peak times,” he said.
Helaire is enriching GCR’s team with an emphasis on user experience.
He joins the company’s cadre of veteran airport executives who are advising more than 100 airports across the U.S.
He said, “Our team is ideally suited to add efficiencies for airports. We have an unparalleled roster of former airport directors and senior managers as well as the more than 300 developers, system architects, and GIS professionals who can provide unique insight into organizational and operational needs and apply our skill sets to create effective solutions.”
Helaire will be focusing on GCR’s product development with an emphasis on UX/UI.
“We’re not just focused on new ideas, but rather creating solutions that are valuable, intuitive and actionable for our peers and colleagues,” he said. “Whether airport staff, airlines, concessions, vendors, or travelers, we’re thinking of the end-user first when developing new technologies. That’s how you create true super-users and get the greatest return on investment.”
While noting the seemingly endless possibilities, Helaire advised that “effectively deployed technologies require proper planning with subject matter experts. The solutions must align with the strategy of the organization, otherwise value is not added.”
GCR currently offers a broad suite of airport solutions, and Helaire plans to focus on the development of new enterprise applications.
Helaire describes his role with airports as that of a change agent.
Airports are like micro-cities. They are complex ecosystems comprised of many discrete parts working with each other in particular ways, some closely integrated and some barely linked.
“Technology can help organize and manage dynamic systems, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible,” he said. “Some may be afraid of the unknown. To be successful, IT leaders are required to be change agents. I see this as one of my primary roles, working with airport management to understand their strategies, digest obstacles, visualize possibilities, and, together, determine the course of action.”
Helaire has on-the-job experience in this regard. Over the years he has advised on IT strategies at airport authorities in both Houston and Jackson. He also has vast experience in facilitating discussions with senior airport executives to formalize and implement strategic plans. He has been an active member of the Business Information Technology Committee for the Airports Council International, which examines new and emerging technologies for airport systems.
“Bryan is well known and respected in the airport industry and having him join our team is a major win for us and our clients,” said Tim Walsh, GCR’s President of Critical Infrastructure. “With Bryan driving product design and UX/UI, GCR will continue to build on its success as a leading provider of airport solutions.”
GCR’s experts have provided solutions to the aviation industry for more than 40 years. Its leading AirportIQ suite is a family of connected software solutions built to help manage airports, comply with federal regulations, and provide actionable information.
GCR improves, expedites, and digitally transforms public sector offerings in the areas of grants management, critical infrastructure, land and facilities management, elections, and government business services. Together with its subsidiaries, PCC Technology Inc. and MB3, GCR is recognized as one of the top government technology and service providers in the country.
A trusted partner of the FAA, the company administers nationwide federal inspections of all public and private use airports and has professional relationships with 13 U.S. state aeronautics agencies and over 100 airports worldwide, including the Houston Airport System, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, JFK, and SFO.