A Bit About: Elevating Passenger Experience

Watch BRO airport's Bryant Walker and Parabit's Rob Leiponis discuss the practical application of airport innovation at the BRO new passenger terminal, and where they think future airport technology is headed.






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James Kent: Hello and welcome to this live podcast brought to you by Parabit Systems. I'm your host James Kent. There's a saying at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport located in Brownsville, Texas and that is, "let the journey take flight." And we're going to talk about some exciting news that is sure to bring a lot of journeys to passenger's futures.


Earlier this year, a new passenger terminal opened up at the BRO, and that is great news indeed as BRO is the closest airport to South Padre Island. We're going to get into a lot of cool specifics about this project, and the state-of-the-art technology in place in the new terminal, and to help me do that are my two guests.


First I am pleased to welcome on the show, Bryant Walker. Bryant is the Assistant City Manager and Aviation Administrator for the city of Brownsville. Bryant welcome.


Bryant Walker: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.


James Kent: And next we have Rob Leiponis, the CEO and President of Parabit Systems. Parabit is a strategic partner on this project and was heavily involved in many of the technology systems deployed throughout the new terminal. Rob a warm welcome to you, too.


Rob Leiponis: Thank you very much.


James Kent: Bryant, take me through the need for this new passenger terminal and how it's going to impact the economy for Brownsville in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.


Bryant Walker: Well, initially the economic impact is just massive just from the construction alone. The previous terminal was outdated, outmoded. Built in 1972, it had outlived its useful life. It didn't comply with most of the regulations out there for TSA, for CBP, for the international component to the airport. So, it had a high, high maintenance cost just on a day-to-day use. So, if you put all that together. It was necessary to build the new terminal.


So, when we started to build the new terminal, again, the economic impact of building it and retaining what was here, a lot of people said, "build it and they'll come," and actually the inverse works as well, "if you don't build it, they'll leave." So, just to maintain the jobs, maintain the service and connectivity for the community, we had to build a new one. So, when we did that we wanted to make sure that we future-proof, the terminal itself, and built the technology and components in it that we could expand on and integrate technologies that yet don't exist, as well as the latest technology that Parabit provided a lot of when we built this.


So we expanded the terminal from initial 37,000 square feet, old terminal, we expanded this one into a 92,000 square foot terminal with a complete compliant FIS and checkpoint for security and those types of things. And then of course we did add a lot of those technology components, everything from the, you know, for the curb to gate passenger experience. I'm not sure, I think that answers your question.

James Kent: Yeah, but you know to make sure that this new terminal was truly state of the art and could meet the needs of not only today's passengers but the future demands, what was critical to build into the terminal to support those needs, especially when you're not sure what those needs might be?

Bryant Walker: Well, certainly the infrastructure itself. You've got to make sure that you have adequate power. We looked at the fiber for any data connectivity for the again those future needs that we're unaware of. So, we really built the infrastructure in here. You know, behind the scenes we put in a lot of drainage and underground utility corridors and things like that.

So, it's easily modifiable in the future, but in the building itself, we actually ran additional conduit that's in excess of what we need for the access control, for the CCTV, and even a lot of the biometrics. So, all that we built it into the design very early in that design phase, so that we can add everything that we wanted as well as the future technologies as they roll out.


James Kent: Absolutely. I want to bring Parabit back into the conversation. Rob, take me through some of the solutions you provided for this terminal project. I'm sure there are many considerations that the average person would never factor in, but that your team needed to put in place to make this project a success.


Rob Leiponis: Several products that we introduced to Bryant and his team, one of which is, you know, installing analytic cameras at all touch points from entering the facility to exiting the facility. We wanted to create an environment that, through facial recognition, they would be able to eventually tie into back-end systems to be able to identify people as they're entering facilities, and then until they get to the point, and they exit the jet bridge and get on the plane and as well as supervised if they get off the plane and meander back into the terminal.


Various different digital touch points built into the welcome center, built into kiosks. As well as curbside pylons with information on the terminal itself and the services that are provided by the terminal, as well as attractions in the area. We also have provided and worked closely with Bryant in the CPP, with the FIS podiums where we created a kind of like a future-proof enclosure that addressed all the needs of the technology that's utilized today, but as well as makes the enclosure completely expandable to address any future analytics that the CPP and FIS introduced into those areas.


And charging stations which we've always found through all of the projects that we've done with many of our airport customers. We basically have leveraged charging all from the land side area to the air side area of the terminal to make a very comfortable experience. Since, you know, most people their phones are constantly in their hands, so we wanted to address their needs for power. So that was a very important aspect which Bryant was very open into looking into the designs that we had proposed and had eventually deployed.


James Kent: Rob, I feel like we're talking about a science fiction movie here, it's amazing. All of this technology really does sound like the future is now. Obviously, with the new terminal opening at the beginning of this year, a portion of the construction had to take place during COVID-19. How did the pandemic affect the construction of the new terminal and what, if anything, about the design changed as a result?


Bryant Walker: I'll be glad to field that one. So as the pandemic rolled out, what we saw as an impact to the project itself was really supply chain issues. So, we were looking at products and materials that the contractor needed to actually make the terminal, you know, complete on time. Those were the challenges we really faced. For the terminal itself, we'd actually envisioned being able to build out those additional technologies and even phase some things in. That's why we built in conduits that we had no use for when we started construction.


So, sort of a lot of the elements that Rob was talking about, the cameras in doorways, were things that were posed for biometric access control. As technologies, advanced over the past year and a half even, very recent history here, where there's a lot of ticket lists, baggage handling and there's even LPRs, license plate readers, for parking systems and things like that. So, there's a lot of technologies that incorporate using cameras, facial recognition and everything, and not just like the access control, but also the touchless ticketing and check-in services for the airlines.

So, we knew we wanted all of that in the terminal at some point. So as our budget sort of expanded a little bit over the project, we were able to go back to a Parabit and incorporate the same technology, so we had consistency throughout the terminal. So, whether it's the CCTV, whether it's access control, or whether it's even supporting the efforts of the airlines, and having their biometric check-ins and everything, all of those devices are the same that run on the same system and supported by the same backbone. So that allows us to have flexibility even in our maintenance and keep those costs, controllable as well. So, it’s a whole ecosystem of technology, it's not just a single device here or there.


So, again, as we expanded the project, we did want to have more touchless points, we wanted to have less, you know, less things to spread any of these germs and things that are going around right now. So we did add the antimicrobial surfaces that Parabit provided for all of our countertops, like, virtually every countertop and table within the terminal has this antimicrobial coating. Some sort of, I'm not a scientist, maybe Rob can elaborate but it's some sort of silver oxide or...


Rob Leiponis: It's a silver ion-based product that has like a five-year life expectancy to kill any bacteria that comes in contact with the surface.


Bryant Walker: That really helps, you know, ease passenger's concerns, and then on top of that we didn't want to, you know, messing with plugs and touching everything, so Parabit provided us with the wireless charging units for literally every table within the terminal right now. And, and then of course the back of seating charging, they provide as well, which also gives us a marketing surface, since it is above the seating itself.


So, all these were benefits not just for COVID. I mean COVID was certainly a concern, but like I said it's more of a supply chain concern than how we actually operate the airport. As we operate the airport we are looking to do as much protection, as much touchless interaction as we can. And again, antimicrobial surfaces and the touchless access control through facial verification with the security system we have. But then, as Rob pointed out, every portal, every doorway, and a lot of the counters, the ticket counters, the gate counters, they all have cameras built in, so that we can tie those in when the airlines are ready to start moving to the biometric entry and exit.


So, there's really three phases, there's the airline cameras and access control or touchless and ticketing and all that, there's the access control and security component for the airport, and there's also the CBP component. Rob kind of touched on the podiums that we provided for the CBP. So, we collaborated with headquarters in DC to CBP so they could move from a booth, the very large obtrusive thing in the CBP, Federal Inspection station check in area. We move from that to a much more slim, purpose-built podium that does have all these touchless interactive devices so you can, you know, the user can go through and actually scan their own documents. And it's built to accept future devices that CBP will provide for scanning your entry and exit documents, passports, IDs and everything like that, as well as a fingerprint station, so that they don't have to interact directly with the agent on duty, they just interact with the devices that are there.


Then there's also, like I said, the built-in camera, which is going to capture the biometric images as well, and match that to the manifest. So, there's three components to the imaging aspect of it, and all that's provided by Parabit in a nice, sleek design that the airport was looking for.


James Kent: Well, I think it's a great example of what you were talking about, that you were thinking ahead in this planning, really thought about the future, because frictionless experiences, now as a result of the pandemic, is a priority for passengers, and it sounds like that you didn't have to do too much to suddenly integrate that when the pandemic hit, it was already something that you were focused on, right?


Bryant Walker: That's correct. I mean, you know, from the design standpoint we met with the airport administration as well as the design team and engineers. And we indicated that we wanted ability to do anything with this. If we want this terminal to be able to live the longest possible life, we needed to make sure that we were prepared for the unknown. And being able to use devices that are modular, the devices that Parabit provided, whether it's the charging stations the wireless charging, which is here for, it's going to be here for quite a while, I would imagine. But even that is backwards. It's going to be something we can backward compatibility, work with so that we can make adjustments in the future without it being obtrusive.


So wireless chargers we have are all flush with the counters, I mean, there’s no wires anywhere. You just lay your devices on that, and they charge up. The cameras are built into the doorways and portals, so they're very discreet. And even their counter mounted units, those things are able to be upgraded. If the technology, if the sensors, improve, we can actually go into the modules and remove those, swap them out.


And we're in a position to continue to progress and upgrade with the technology as it improves. So, I think everybody on the team was really looking at the future and making sure that we didn't paint ourselves into a corner.


James Kent: Now the new terminal, is it primarily focused on leisure travel with its close proximity to South Padre Island or is it a multi-focus terminal.


Bryant Walker: Well historically the airport's not been able to support larger aircraft because of the size of the facility, it was really the bottleneck for the for the service that the airport could provide to the community. The terminal was so small it could really only handle the small regional jets. That gave us a customer base that was about 85% business travel.


So now that we have the new terminal, we can actually accommodate aircraft up to a triple seven, certainly all of the low-cost and ultra-low-cost carriers which fly the larger small aircraft like even A320s, A319s, 737s, we can we can accommodate those now. We can get low-cost carriers in here so we we fully expect to be recovering a lot of what we call "leakage," traffic that is taking a different mode of travel or using a different airport. So, they're having to travel farther right now to get to their final destination, because this airport was insufficient before we built this terminal.


We're in a much more competitive advantage for the leisure travel. So, we're expecting it to level out and be about 50/50 when we're done. Brownsville has a very large, a lot of people are unaware that Brownsville does have such a large industrial base. So, we have a lot of business travel, the consequences of that.


James Kent: That's fantastic. Now, Rob, the main phase of the project is complete, but Parabit's work isn't necessarily over. How will Parabit continue to work with the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport to ensure the technology and solutions required carry on into the future?


Rob Leiponis: We're continuing in a support capacity to upgrade content as required on the various different digital signage platforms. We're working closely with the provider Genetec to integrate all of the cameras into the video management system. Genetec is a very open platform for leveraging analytics as well as recording video, but as well as the access camera platform, or the products that we installed in all the doorway and counter mount cameras are edge products. They can actually run the analytics on the actual device itself. It's a very powerful tool. Many of our banking customers have deployed this product throughout their teller stations and doorways of their branches.


And as we continue to develop new products and new innovation, Bryant has been very receptive to evaluating and considering the products that we have developed. We have some new products that we're developing for supervising bathroom areas that don't involve a camera that will help in maintaining a very healthy environment for people using the various bathrooms and public access areas.


As well as access control systems for private lounges, because now that airports are now starting to become meeting places where people may be flying in for a day or so, many airports are now looking at creating conference spaces. So that way, travelers or business people can come and fly into an airport, have two or three meetings airside, and then just get back on the plane and leave.


So we have a new retail access solution that will bring it to the market in September. We're having actually several dialogues with international and domestic airports that are interested in the solution.


James Kent: That's actually, that's a great idea. I used to travel in my past, and you know what just meeting up with somebody was very important, and if we could have had a meeting place at the airport man that would have been fantastic. So, we're closing in on our time today, Bryant, what has you most excited about the new terminal, and where things are headed as more and more people return to travel for leisure for business and everything in between?


Bryant Walker: Really, I think that the opening up of the markets providing the service. That's really got me excited for the community. So that we can provide routes and destinations that people hadn't previously dreamed of coming directly into Brownsville. And we're fortunate to work with a company like Parabit, and he mentioned Genetec, and some others, which is another great thing about Parabit. All of their devices are so compatible and interchangeable, it's scalable, it's backward compatible with some of our legacy systems.


I mean there's so many benefits to us and the technology that we built in here. I think that it creates that seamless curb to gate experience airports are really trying to drive towards now. So that when you show up to the airport, whether it's your parking, whether it's checking in with the airlines and ticketing, biometric access controls, and being able to self-bag tag things. All these steps and components, and even the TSA is getting in on it. They've got a cat system where you just feed your IDs into it. All the systems that we're working on here, really need to have that compatibility.


Like I said before, it's an ecosystem. It's future proofing the terminal. Making sure that we can just move forward without having to worry that we're stuck with some sort of legacy something or another. So, we've been able to work with Parabit to provide the components, provide the technology that will help us achieve that. So, I'm really excited about the future of travel, and this terminal is providing all the functionality to make that happen.


James Kent: And Rob, same question. What are you looking most forward to about the new terminal?


Rob Leiponis: I just like the receptiveness that we received from Bryant and his team on the new technology that we were able to present to them. What my vision is, I mean creating a safe environment, for the airport staff, airline staff, customers coming in to visit, vendors as well. Trying to develop as many contactless touchpoints as possible, make people feel comfortable traveling as well as coming to work. These are extremely important things in the security world as it is today.


I mean, we hope that this is the, you know, that would be nice to say that this is the end of any type of pandemic, but that's probably not a reality, so we have to all continue to work together to create all different types of contactless touch points to have people feel comfortable. We're working now on some projects with a partner to possibly roll out robots to perform different types of UVC, as well as chemical, disinfecting or cleaning of areas, as well as delivery of materials, and pick up materials or mail.


I think automation is, you know, we're just at the brink of it. I mean, we keep thinking that we've gotten to a point where there's so much technology, but we're just at the tip of it because the world is evolving based upon this pandemic. And I think it's extremely important for us to be focusing on eliminating as many touch points that exists. Common touchpoints, it's been a bane to our existence with this recent pandemic, and that's really the focus of our business.


James Kent: I love it. I love it. All right, Bryant, Rob, that about does it for now. Any last words from either one of you before we go? Bryant?


Bryant Walker: I would say keep an eye out for Brownsville. It's growing by leaps and bounds. I don't know if you've seen on the news recently, but we're now launching rockets. There's one on the monitor here behind me. They're preparing to do some tests for that, sub-orbital tests. And all the people that use all the facilities around here fly in and out of this airport.


For me, I mean, visit while you can. It's going to get busier and busier and busier and then it's just going to be more expensive and harder to get down here. So, I would encourage anybody listening to come take a look and come enjoy it. Enjoy what we've been able to install, and how convenient, easy the airport itself is to use. If you compare it to some of the larger airports in the major hubs around, a lot of people just dread going to the airport.


We're looking to use the technologies, use the automation that Rob's talking about, to make it pleasurable experience. The customer service, and the customer experience is what the whole industry is really focused on, and I think we really hit it out of the park with this.


James Kent: Sounds great. Rob, do you have any other last words?


Rob Leiponis: No. It's just, it's been a pleasure to work with Bryant on this project. He's got great vision, so does his team. And really looking forward to seeing how we can establish other relationships like this and do something like we've done for Bryant and even take it beyond. Because we're a big collaborator with our client base. We spend a lot of time understanding what their needs are and trying to figure out how to create a future-proof technology that will always provide the ability to upgrade. Whatever it is that we provide to that client to the latest and greatest of what's available.

James Kent: And if folks want to get in touch with Parabit, or if they want to get more information about the new terminal at BRO, what's the best way for them to do that?


Bryant Walker: Well, for the airport, just, it's really easy we have all of our social media. You go to FlyBrownsville.com. We've got links there for, whether it's Facebook, Instagram or anything else that you're partial to. Or all the information is just available on the website itself. So that's FlyBrownsville.com. I'd check that out.


James Kent: And Rob?


Rob Leiponis: Parabit, visit our website, you know, we have the ability to chat with us off our website. We also are attending many tradeshows to try to support the airline industry. We're on the ground again. We went to one trade show, we're on track to do six more this year. So, visit us at any of our trade shows, and we do a lot of webinars, so if anybody's interested in any of the solutions that we provide, or discussing a custom concept, we do a lot of collaboration via webinar and WebEx solutions. So, those are the best ways to get us.


James Kent: All right, big thanks to my guests, Bryant Walker, Assistant City Manager and Aviation Administrator for the city of Brownsville, Texas, and Rob Leiponis, CEO and President of Parabit Systems. Bryant, Rob, take care.


Rob Leiponis: Thank you, have a good day.


Bryant Walker: Thank you, James.


James Kent: All right, and thanks once again for joining us for this look at the new passenger terminal at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport, or airport code BRO. We'll be back with more episodes, but until then, I'm your host James Kent. Let's talk again soon.