Skift Take

Aviation is taking advantage of outsider perspectives and capabilities to push innovation forward. With proper management, these programs could prove fruitful both for the industry and passengers. We’re maintaining healthy skepticism, but the solution to systemic problems is often fresh thinking.

Düsseldorf Airport has launched a startup contest to promote innovation. The DUS High Flyer Start-Up Awards will award a pioneering start-up €50,000, office Space, and public recognition which could help their businesses take off.

The objective is to support locally-hashed fresh ideas for technologies products and services which could improve travel for the airport’s customers. The airport is looking for solutions in the categories of mobility, media, operations, retail, MICE, and food and beverage.

This initiative is part of the ongoing trend among aviation companies to foster innovation by launching start-up ventures.

But is it fad, fancy, or future?

We recently asked you for a minute before we made up our mind on the aviation start-up trend. A minute later, we can’t say whether it’s here to stay, but we can say it is set to grow.

Driving that growth is the speed-gap between aviation and technology processes.

Aviation companies nurturing start ups acknowledge the pace of change of the digital age and embrace it. Those industry stakeholders launching venture programs are betting that industry-outsiders can bring a fresh perspective to common travel problems. They hope to apply start-ups technical skills to approach those in whole new way.

That is what Thomas Schnalke, Managing Director at Düsseldorf Airport explained to us, when we discussed the DUS Highflyer startup award.

“Startups mostly have the ability to focus on the customer`s value in an unconventional way,” he tells us. “Their products often help to relieve the complex everyday life and to overcome challenges in a simple way. The innovative capacity and creativity of these young companies can be a benefit for the different business areas at our airport.”

The speed of tech suits aviation demands to serve an ever-growing number of passengers.

“The aviation sector is a very dynamic business. More and more people want to fly. Innovative solutions and concepts are therefore always in demand,” Schnalke says. “We believe that it is important to support startups, as they often have brilliant ideas, but usually do not have a big sales network yet. Therefore they are often unknown in the aviation industry.”

Local entrepreneurs are eager to earn the airport’s sponsorship for their projects.

“We arouse interest in the startup community, as we are one of the first airports that brought a startup award to life,” Schnalke says. “We are already in contact with startups, who want to learn more about us. On the other hand we are interested in getting to know their products in detail. These are very fruitful conversations”.

Management at Düsseldorf airport is particularly open minded. The airport has experimented with unique technologies to make the airport more user-friendly, and it has focused on supporting local technology companies.

Its RAY robot parking system parks cars for travelers so they can just proceed to check-in without worrying over whether they’ll find a parking spot. It was developed by SERVA transport systems in the Bavarian town of Granbenstatt.

While it is open to ambitious proposals, Düsseldorf wants deliverable solutions.

The DUS Highflyer award is managed as a separate project by a dedicated team, responsible to meet with candidates and judge proposals.

“We intend to award and support one startup for its innovative product with the DUS Highflyer Award. If the jury, who also consists of representatives from different airport sectors, sees potential to implement the startup`s product into our processes, we will discuss the possibilities,” Schnalke tells us. “At Düsseldorf Airport the different divisions always work very closely together. Therefore there would be an efficient way to test possibilities of implementation.”

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