Taking Flight: Discussing Trends in Aviation

  • Aug 5, 2019

A Q&A with Faith Varwig from Faith Group, LLC

This interview originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of The Beck Group Cost Report.


By 2030, it is projected that the demand for air traffic will double from today. This increase means the aviation industry must continue to grow and change to meet these mounting challenges in the future.

We sat down with Faith Varwig, founder and principal of Faith Group, LLC, for a Q&A session to learn from her insight on trends in the industry, as well as in design and construction.

Faith Group is a full-service consulting and engineering firm specializing in planning, design, and program management support services related to technology, security, and building systems for aviation, transportation, government, healthcare, higher education, and commercial clients.


Q. Your experience in design and planning for aviation clients began in the early 1980s. What is it about the aviation industry that drew you in and eventually led you to start Faith Group, LLC?

Airports are complicated, dynamic, and ever-changing facilities. That is what hooked me from the start, and what eventually led me to create Faith Group.

When I started in this business, we purchased paper tickets through travel agents weeks before we traveled. There was no security checkpoint, and airlines served full meal service to everyone. Airlines owned most of the facilities, and airports were just landlords leasing space.

There have been dramatic changes over the past few decades, with the industry and the demand for travel increasing eight-fold. Faith Group is focused on delivering innovation and helping our clients grow well into the future.


Q. What excites you most about trends in aviation projects today?

As airports have shifted from a landlord mentality to multi-billion-dollar businesses, they have realized the need to make better decisions based on data, rather than assumptions. This shift has driven the need to build resilient infrastructure, technology, and security systems to support these new business drivers.

Airports are also facing several disrupters. Companies such as Lyft and Uber, rapid adoption of biometric technology, and increases in security and safety requirements all require innovative, non-traditional thinking to resolve and incorporate into the airport environment.


Q. What will airports be like in the future?

If the projections are correct and the industry doubles in just over 30 years, facilities, roadways, runways, and other critical infrastructure will struggle to keep up with demand. Add to that new technology such as drones, autonomous vehicles, need for higher speed communications, and millions of other technology advancements that we don’t even foresee today. It’s going to take creative planning and implementation strategies for our clients to fund all of the needed improvements.


Q. How have amenities and experiences evolved in airports? e.g., more retailers, lounge access, restaurant types, etc.

When I started traveling for business, you were lucky to be able to purchase a cold, over-cooked hot dog.  Now airports like San Francisco and JFK have gourmet chefs and Gucci stores. Airline lounges serve food to their members and top-shelf cocktails. You can valet park and have your car washed and serviced while you are away.

These amenities have vastly improved the customer experience and have an added benefit of increasing non-aeronautical revenue for most airports, which in turn allows them to invest in infrastructure improvements. It has been a win/win scenario for everyone.


Q. How have shifts in transportation (such as increased ride-sharing and public transportation usage) affected airport logistics and infrastructure needs?

As the usage of car ride services increase, and with Uber’s announcement of the air transportation service Uber Elevate, airports are looking at capital investments in landside facilities from a different viewpoint. Many airports over the past ten years have also introduced rail lines into their facilities, allowing customers an alternative to passenger vehicles.


Q. What are airports doing to expand technology infrastructure for security purposes and traveler experiences?

The deployment of biometric identification is the hottest discussion topic in the marketplace right now. Facial recognition has been in the testing phase internationally for several years and is just now being tested and deployed in the U.S.

Biometric identification is one of the few passenger-facing technology deployments that enhances both security and passenger processing. Current implementations show that the use of facial recognition reduces the boarding process time to just a few seconds. No boarding passes are required; passengers look into the camera, and it verifies who they are and their authorization to board in only one step. Once this technology is widely adopted, it will enhance many standard procedures in airports, including TSA screening.

I also see the facilities being much more streamlined and focused on self-service. Many of the technology solutions we deliver in new facilities today pave the way to further enhancements in the self-services arena.


Q. Tell us about Faith Group’s approach to the airport experience. What are you doing to enhance the needs of clients and the end-user?

One of Faith Group’s goals is to improve the entire passenger experience. From the time they leave home to the time they walk onto the jetway, passengers want immediate access to accurate data. This includes the status of traffic en route to the airport, expedited check-in, flow-through security, mobile delivery of concessions and amenities, and agent-free boarding. All of these points can improve through the proper development and deployment of technology solutions.

Technology consulting services are focused on improvements to the business process. Creating a robust stakeholder engagement program at the start of the project through deployment is key. Technology and security solutions are used by airport staff to enhance their on-the-job performance. Unlike other airport infrastructure, our clients are hands-on every day using the tools we design to support their operation.


Q. How does construction on an active project, affect the airport (passengers, staff, and operations)?

One of the primary goals, and in many cases, conditions of bidding work, is a commitment to minimize the impact on current operations, passengers, and stakeholders in general. That is much easier to accomplish on new deployments rather than upgrades or renovations.

In the technology/security world, an inoperable fire alarm, paging, or flight display system might mean the facility can’t operate. These systems going down affect the entire facility, whereas general construction impacts are typically limited to a smaller physical footprint.

To ensure success, the entire design and deployment strategy must tightly integrate with the internal stakeholder community.


Q. How are labor shortages and/or rising material costs affecting aviation projects?

We have seen a dramatic increase in construction costs for many security and technology projects. The increase on the west coast is the most striking, ranging between 10-30 percent premiums, compared to the central and southern regions.

We also see fewer bidders on projects. On a recent bid in the north-central region of the U.S., we only had one respondent due to the labor shortage. Contractors and integrators are being more selective about what work they pursue. The slightest risk on a project, such as liquidated damage clauses, can be the difference in the Go/No-Go decision for many bidders.


Q. The A/E/C industry is working hard to reduce waste, increase collaboration, engage technology/innovation, and realign the knowledge curve earlier in the process. Are advancements in delivery methods proving useful on your projects (such as BIM, LEAN, prefabrication)? What sort of effect does it have on budgets, scheduled, predictability, operations, etc.?

The use of Revit, BIM, and other 3D modeling tools have greatly improved the designer’s ability to specify and place equipment more accurately.

Faith Group is beginning to use 3D modeling to layout cameras and define the field of view coverage, which allows for more accurate installation of equipment. It also lets us show people operating the system how it works before it’s installed, allowing us to factor input into the program earlier in the design and deployment process. We are using Revit models to inform the design of passenger facing systems to understand how stakeholders will see and interface with the various technology systems found in the terminal and hold room spaces. We are also modeling command and control centers to understand the equipment ergonomics and video screen placement better.


About Faith Varwig

Faith started her career in security and technology planning, and design in the mid-1980’s addressing newly developed aviation security mandates. Faith has managed the development of more than $400 million in aviation and transportation-related technology programs.

From technology master planning to applied security systems, she provides leadership and creative thinking to help clients focus on business needs, which support and enhance operations through the application of technology. For 25 years, she has actively participated as a steering group member to the Airport Council International (ACI) Business and Information Technology (BIT) Group and Public Safety and Security (PSS) committee. She is a past Board of Directors member of the Airport Consultants Council (ACC) and served as the Security and Emergency Management Deputy Chair for the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP).

Faith can be contacted at faith@faithgroupllc.com or 314.991.2228.