The National Academies

ACRP 01-47 [Active]

A Guide to Developing a Culture of Innovation at Airports

  Project Data
Funds: $300,000
Staff Responsibility: Matt J. Griffin
Research Agency: Barich, Inc.
Principal Investigator: Justin Phy
Effective Date: 9/11/2020
Completion Date: 12/10/2021


Adjusting to and planning for the ever-changing airport environment is increasingly difficult. Big data is revolutionizing airport business models, the connected traveler has more control than ever over their journey, and airport concessions/retail are constantly testing new business paradigms. These are just a few examples of the changes facing airport operators. To respond, airports need new innovative options; new products and services that balance the needs of passengers and airport-wide stakeholders; new ideas that tackle the technocentric challenges of information, communication, and technology; and new strategies that result in differences that matter and provide a sense of purpose that engage everyone affected by them. 

Changing airport culture can be challenging when leveraging innovative ideas. Every airport has a different view of innovation within their existing culture. Innovation can be visionary, it can help solve a specific problem, or take advantage of opportunities that come from all levels of the organization or even the airport customers. The success of a culture of innovation should start with executive management and requires buy-in throughout the organization. Key questions related to innovation include: What is your airport trying to achieve? What are the organizational goals? Does your airport have an innovative culture and the resources to become innovative? Are you incentivizing employees to be innovative and rewarding them for this behavior? What does an innovation team look like at an airport? 

Airport teams are ramping up innovation labs, centers, and executive level positions to support critical thinking, strategy, and innovation. Airports need an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective, and broadly assessable; that can integrate into all aspects of the business and region; and that individuals and teams can use to generate breakthrough ideas that have a meaningful impact in the aviation industry. A culture of innovation will help all aspects of an airport’s business, to include but not limited to: planning, design, and construction of new facilities; customer experience; security; operational efficiency; and revenue generation. The implementation of these tools will help make an organization fit for the future.


The objective of this research is to provide a guide toward fostering and sustaining a culture of innovation within the airport environment.  As part of this objective, there must be a plan for disseminating and facilitating the use of this guide. 

The guide should be applicable to all airports and provide, at a minimum: (1) internal and external stakeholders with a practical understanding of what a culture of innovation is and demonstrate why it is important in an airport; (2) an effective means of collaboration among stakeholders and other opportunities for information sharing; (3) implementable strategies for identifying and surmounting barriers, for staff at all levels, for developing a culture of innovation as well as channeling and sustaining its efforts; (4) specific examples for staff and leaders of measures and tools they can use to assess and report the outcomes desired and benefits realized through innovation both within the organization and outside it; and (5) case studies from both aviation and non-aviation organizations with real-world examples of drivers/triggers for innovation, the process that took place to facilitate that innovation, the impact, and sustained outcome to their environment. 


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