Project Runway: New Innovation Officer Tackles Travel Roadblocks at Dallas Fort Worth Airport

Biometric scanning, virtual reality, and augmented reality are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving the airport experience, says Dallas Fort Worth Airport's Chief Innovation Officer.

Innovation is a matter of strategy, says Paul Puopolo, chief innovation officer at Dallas Fort Worth Airport.

A 13-year veteran of the innovation trade, Puopolo offers insights into staying current in an evolving technology market and creating a top-tier travel experience at the world’s No. 12 biggest airport.

“The good thing is I don’t have to sell innovation to DFW airport. They’re already in.”
Paul Puopolo

“The technology that can be applied to the city can be applied at the airport,” he says. Because for Puopolo, innovation is “not just about coming up with some cool things. It has to be things that solve a problem and have a business model around them.”

When it comes to tackling air travel’s roadblocks, technologies like VR, AR, and biometric scanning are just the tip of the iceberg.

“There’s a lot of things I think DFW [Airport] represents, much like a city… We had the same challenges, the same issues, the same thing as we’re trying to solve,” he told Dallas Innovates.

Among the technologies already deployed at the airport is dynamic glass windows, which use IoT tech to control room temperature and brightness, display messages, and monitor for break-ins.

But challenges still lie ahead for Puopolo. Those hurdles include improving transit with autonomous vehicles, offering reliable WiFi, and lighting the facility, a task often handled by IoT.

In addition, DFW Airport hosts regular training to teach area firefighters how to battle the blaze of an engulfed airplane. While the airport often uses controlled burns in the training, VR and AR technologies are often employed well. Puopolo says the airport is a “hotbed of use cases for VR and AR.”

[Image: Paul Puopolo, Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Illustration: Christopher Augustine]

Puopolo is taking a four-pronged approached to redefining innovation at DFW Airport, starting at the top. He credits the airport’s CEO with instituting innovation throughout the airport’s history.

“The good thing is I don’t have to sell innovation to DFW airport. They’re already in,” he says.

Puopolo joined the DFW Airport team in August 2018 and is still working to discover and implement innovative solutions for travelers. While he says he can’t speak specifically about the future of transportation, he can plan ahead to expect the unexpected—even if it’s accommodating eVTOL aircraft or autonomous vehicles.

Next, Puopolo says he will take a portfolio approach to kickstarting innovation, meaning he plans to create a pathway to success that meets the company’s strategy.

Furthermore, he says innovation needs to be integrated into the business’ core. “Innovation has to support the business, and it has to be tied to the business. You have to have a lot of partners in the business to get it done.”

Finally, Puopolo says he is taking a process approach. “So going from ideation to concept development to business case testing to roll out, you have a way of doing that and you have to make sure it works within the company that you’re in.”

Frequent travelers will be glad to know the airport also plans to roll out a passenger wait time technology at security checkpoints in 2019. Puopolo says the tech will make security checkpoints more efficient and cut down on wait time.

To make this happen, Puopolo says he is looking into AI technologies that can distill down data, leverage it for the passengers’ benefit, and create proactive solutions.

One thing’s for sure: proactive progress comes with the promise of easing the airport experience for travelers passing through Dallas.

“We have to be able to provide stress-free travel experiences and an exceptional consumer experience. And we know we still want to be the front door to our communities that we serve. And that’s an important role to have, because we might be the first view that they get into Dallas and Fort Worth.”

A version of this article was first published in Dallas Innovates 2019—The Magazine.

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Dallas Innovates 2019—The Magazine explores the region as a rising tech hub that will shape the future of innovation. The theme of our second annual print publication, “A Breakout Moment,” explores why now is the time for the region to grab its place in the tech universe.

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