Writer: by Gabriela Enamorado
2 min read April 2023 — Mario Evans, airport director of DeKalb Peachtree Airport, and Balram Bheodari, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, shared their thoughts with Focus: on how their airports, and the aviation industry, are taking advantage of technology to better operations and improve guest experience, as well as the ways in which they are navigating the ongoing labor shortage.
How are you approaching the workforce shortage?
Balram Bheodari: “Employees look for opportunities for career progression and the aviation industry provides that. We must ensure there is career progression within the company and we need competitive compensation because we want the best and brightest. For us, the technical skills, such as HVAC technicians and electricians, are the hardest roles to fill. We have launched a robust and dynamic apprenticeship program to address these challenges. The new program offers a unique, paid, opportunity for motivated career seekers, incumbent employees, and high school students to advance their career and learn a trade while creating a pipeline of highly-skilled workers for the industries in need. There are 50 other companies that have this same vision, but we want to really show the value of working here through addressing extrinsic and intrinsic motivations.”
Mario Evans: “We have had to make do with what we have and show our employees that we appreciate them. So, the county and the airport have shown a lot of appreciation to our current employees and in some cases have even hired a few. The shortages that we do have makes it difficult to find replacements, and replacing our retired employees has taken three years in some cases. We are finally back to a full staff and have filled all our positions. Showing employees appreciation is important. We are considered essential, so we were working every day of the pandemic. We encourage our employees to get vaccinated and the county created some monetary incentives for that to happen. It has been challenging but we are moving forward and are in a good position.”
How are you using technology to improve guest experience and general operations?
Bheodari: “We are looking into technology for our concession program where you can make a reservation and use a QR code with your smartphone to get your food. This is convenient for the airport and it makes our airport smarter. We want to add technology like this for your entire trip, so you can get amenities like parking or place an order for a wheelchair. You can plan your trip and anticipate the time it takes to get food and get through security.”
Evans: “We do have an FAA radar feed for our operations, our NOMS system. We utilize the Noise Operating Monitoring System and our Airport Noise Officer who handles our noise complaints also investigates each one. Another tool we added is a Noise app, for submitting noise complaints where people can file their noise complaint. We also added a new radar tool that is an antenna called 1200 Arrow to assist us with radar data. It sits on top of our tower to give us brown data and aircraft information. We are utilizing new tools and software as they become available. We are always looking for something to help us analyze statistics and pinpoint the problem so we can find a solution. We also installed a new LED Beacon for better visibility during inclement weather.”
What is your outlook over the next few years?
Bheodari: “The entire country is recovering, with some areas recovering faster than others. Most airports will probably return to 2019 travel demand in 2023. We need to offer many options to get people where they are going because our customers want more choice. We have a huge impact on the global transportation system because of how many customers this airport serves. Overall, the outlook for aviation is very good. Intermodal connectivity will grow as people look for options to connect to the airport.”
Evans: “We will continue looking forward and utilizing those tools we just acquired. We are also planning to complete an environmental assessment in the first two quarters of the year to determine if there are any impacts. Building more hangars and facilities will continue to be a focus to assist our customers and tenants.
We also have a group of rocket scientists from Georgia Tech here at PDK. They secured some Department of Defense contract funding. They are developing a jet engine that can go Mach5. That group is called HERMEUS. We are excited to grow with them here at PDK as they expand. Additionally, a non-profit organization, Inspire Aviation Foundation, with hopes of building ar & Space Museum that will be used for educating kids in all areas of aviation. It will also serve as a place the community can utilize conference rooms or community rooms as well as classrooms for DeKalb County School Boards in conjunction with the foundations wishes of having a STEAM program here in DeKalb County. That is going to help to introduce younger generations to aviation.”
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