CEO, Los Angeles World Airports
Mr. Justin Erbacci serves as the Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). He has been with LAWA since October 2016. Mr. Erbacci has oversight of Los Angeles International (LAX) and Van Nuys (VNY) general aviation airports. He leads the team responsible for transforming LAX to a world-class airport for the modern traveler and thus returning LAX to its iconic status, His responsibilities involve managing more than $14 billion dollars in programs to revolutionize how guests access the airport, to modernize all of LAX's terminals, to innovate and significantly improve operations, retail, food and beverage and the overall guest experience, as well as to bring innovation and sustainability to one of the nation's busiest general aviation airports. Mr. Erbacci oversees the largest airport police force in the United States, and works with his public safety team and outside government stakeholders to ensure the protection of the public and property. He and his team work closely with the community and airport stakeholders to fulfill LAWA's vision of Gold Standard Airports ... Delivered.
Airports are not new to having to adapt their policies and operations after a major event occurs. For example, after 9/11, we saw a big change in how airport security functions. In what ways do you think the pandemic will affect the future of the air travel industry?
Airports will need to focus on finding ways to provide as many layers of protection as possible to make sure that terminals are as clean, healthy and safe so that passengers have peace of mind when traveling. At LAX, we take great pride in keeping our airport clean, but now more than ever, we have put an even greater focus on cleanliness and adding multiple layers of protection to keep passengers healthy. There also will be increased opportunities to highlight innovative technology that will put more of a focus on creating a touchless, seamless travel experience. We are piloting technology that will allow you to shop and dine from a website, limiting the amount of contact with others. We are also looking at ways to increase our use of biometric technology for boarding and arrivals processing and implementing virtual assistance information booths to allow travelers to get information without in-person interactions. We were the first airport in the nation to conduct a large-scale pilot of thermal imaging technology to screen passengers for potential fevers and will continue to look at innovative ways to reduce the worry that is now associated with traveling.
Has the unexpected yet forced change of COVID19 resulted in any unpredicted wins for LAX?
I wouldn't say there have been unexpected wins since this pandemic has resulted in the loss of many lives and incredible disruption to daily life. But, the reduction in passenger traffic that resulted from the pandemic and the need to reimagine our airports has allowed us to expedite some of our innovation ideas, accelerate some of our construction projects, and do a top-to-bottom review of our organizational structure to ensure it is flexible and more efficient and adaptable for this new normal.
Millions of people from around the world travel through LAX, how is LAWA preparing to protect guests and employees from this pandemic? Will these changes be permanent?
From the moment a passenger or employee enters LAX, they will notice increased signage with information on how to have a safe and healthy journey and how to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings are now required for all employees and guests in the airport, we have 250 additional hand sanitizer stations throughout the terminal area and are cleaning high-touch areas like elevator buttons, escalators and bathrooms every hour with hospital-grade cleaning products and UV lighting to sanitize the air. Our signage will help remind passengers to maintain recommended physical distancing and take appropriate steps to protect themselves from becoming ill. We also are using new technologies to provide further protection. Our thermal imaging pilot system in the Tom Bradley International Terminal helps spot travelers who may have a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher and we are piloting technology for health self-checks for our employees. With no vaccine in use, we will most likely see these measures in place for the foreseeable future.
Has progress on the People Mover project progressed during COVID-19, or has there been delays? What can visitors expect to experience when the project is done?
With the decrease in air travel, there has been a significant decrease in vehicular traffic in and around LAX. We are taking advantage of this downturn by implementing full 24-hour closures of some roadways without affecting airport operations. These full closures are creating a safe work environment and allowing construction to take place in multiple shifts, while allowing us to accelerate construction in some areas. Once the APM opens in 2023, travelers and employees can expect a more convenient experience when arriving and departing LAX. The APM will connect people with the Metro line allowing efficient and easy access to and from the airport on public transit. Connections to a remote parking lot, drop off/pick up area and a Consolidated Rent-A-Ca facility will significantly reduce the amount of traffic and vehicles in the Central Terminal Area – thus alleviating congestion into and out of the airport. A trip on the APM into the Central Terminal Area will take 10 minutes or less, and with trains arriving at a station every two minutes during peak operations, the public will now have time-guaranteed access to the airport. Capable of moving 10,000 passengers per hour, this high-frequency, high-capacity system will create a seamless process and help alleviate traffic congestion in and around the airport.
What is the greatest challenge (or lesson learned) of managing one of the busiest airports in the world during a pandemic?
Our number one priority has been keeping our guests and employees healthy and safe, as we continued to operate the airport – as we are required to do by the Federal Aviation Administration – throughout this entire period. One of the greatest challenges we are facing is the unprecedented decline in air travel and the resulting operational and financial impacts on not only us, but on our airport partners as well. We had and continue to make some very tough fiscal choices to ensure our continued operations. Although we have seen an uptick in passenger numbers in recent weeks, it will be a long climb back to the record numbers we have seen in years past.
What is the most common question that LAWA is receiving at this time and how are you responding?
The most common question is – Is it safe to travel? Our airports have never been cleaner or safer. We are doing everything we can to create an airport experience that is clean, healthy and as safe as possible. From deep-cleaning of high-touch areas to using UV filtration to help sanitize the air, we are focused on making our employees and travelers comfortable. We work closely with our airport partners to ensure the all-around experience gives peace of mind when traveling.
What effect do you think COVID-19 will have on opportunities for near term college graduates, has it changed your views of this generation? What advice do you have for young people?
For those who have just graduated or are nearing graduation, there will be many opportunities to think outside of the box and be creative. There is so much unknown with this pandemic, but there is plenty of opportunity to make an impact in society. Those who are thinking creatively and on the leading edge of innovation will do well as we adapt to this new normal. Flexibility and a willingness to move out of one's comfort zone will be key. This period has created an almost perfect storm in that we are facing health, economic and social crises all at the same time. It is the biggest challenge that most college graduates and millennials have ever had to endure and how they decide to respond to this challenge likely will set the stage for our society over the next decades. Moreover, and more current, as we see an uptick in cases, especially among younger people, it is important that they take the lead in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We need to rely on them to wear face coverings, maintain physical distance and take all the precautions necessary to help slow the spread of the disease.
What will be the lasting impact of COVID-19 on LAX — your most optimistic answer and most pessimistic?
For us, the most optimistic impact is that we will take advantage of this crisis to change the way we do things and improve the operational, financial and safety condition of our airports and our LAWA organization. We will learn how to be more efficient, how to do more with less and how to be better neighbors and partners. It has been amazing to see all of our employees – top to bottom – step up in this time of crisis and take on more substantial roles within our organization. We are seeing true leaders and those who are hungry to help any way they can. We have seen increased cooperation with our airport and community partners and the rapid deployment of technology, allowing us to be innovative to create a safer passenger experience. On a more somber note, our industry has been decimated by this pandemic. The drop in air travel that has occurred is unlike any other point in history. Last year, we moved into the No. 3 position in the world for passenger numbers with 88.1 million, which continued our record-breaking climb. Now, we are forecasting that it could take several years to get back to that number of travelers coming through LAX. The recovery period will long and challenging.
What has COVID-19 made you appreciate?
This crisis has allowed me to appreciate everyone working for Los Angeles World Airports, as well as our airport partners, and has shown that we all have the same goal in mind – getting back to connecting people, places and cultures. I also appreciate our wonderful airport community. I have missed connecting with them in person, but have enjoyed spending time with them virtually. Of course, this period most of all has allowed me to appreciate my and my family's health and the love and companionship of my family.