Investment Strategy: The Challenges of Innovating During a Pandemic


Panel participants (from top, left): Salah Makkouk Abhi Chacko, Simone van Neerven, Daniel McCoy and Serdar Gürbüz

With COVID-19, the aviation industry is scrambling to build new tools and processes that safeguard passengers. But scaling and delivering far-reaching value on innovations is more challenging than ever, a panel at Virtual Expo hears. This article originally appeared in Expo Daily Experience. Read the full issues and register for FTE APEX Virtual Expo — the platform will remain open as a resource until January 8.

The aviation industry has been left with little choice: they must push ahead with innovation investments to get travel back online. But the pressure to deliver real-world returns doesn’t always jibe with the lengthy timelines many innovations require to prove their worth.

Shrinking budgets are just one obstacle in what TSA chief innovation officer Daniel McCoy calls the industry’s “steepest uphill battle.” McCoy agrees that the sheer size of his organization enables it to “drive down the overall implementation cost” of new tools, technologies and processes, and shares that the TSA is working on a wide variety of projects to “help startups realign their feature sets to serve security.” Yet, he did not offer much in way of concrete developments.  

Best Unseen

Innovation teams in the travel industry typically focus on removing friction from the passenger experience. When successful, users are likely to not even notice, reveals Simone van Neerven, ex-head of innovation at Vueling and the founder of strategy firm “The best innovations are not even seen by customers,” even as they benefit from them, she says. This presents a major challenge when it comes time to measuring the results of all that work, making it sometimes difficult to justify the expense.   

And because of that, companies should instead be more open to innovative change than a single innovation, suggests Salah Makkouk, Incubators and Accelerators manager at Emirates. For many in the industry, this means rethinking the way they operate. Only then can innovations be add to “pace at which we are able to deliver impact,” he adds. 

As Abhi Chacko, head of Enabling Technologies and Digital Innovation at Gatwick Airport, notes: “There is no point in doing innovation for the sake of innovation or entertainment. It has to make the organization more efficient or the passenger experience better.”

Therein lies the risk of expecting too much, too quickly from innovation teams. There must be some opportunity to see the bigger picture and develop results.

Virtual Expo Connection

Watch the entire recording of “FTE Debate: How can you effectively scale innovation to deliver wide-reaching value in the post-COVID-19 world?”
until January 8, 2021.