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Albany Airport Unveils New Tech To Put Minds At Ease

The Wellness Trace app can be used to check the cleanliness of surfaces at Albany International Airport
Lucas Willard
The Wellness Trace app can be used to check the cleanliness of surfaces at Albany International Airport

Officials have unveiled new technology they say will help travelers keep peace of mind during the pandemic at Albany International Airport.

Phil Calderone, CEO of the Albany County Airport Authority, stood in the main terminal of the Albany International Airport Thursday to announce a new way the airport aims to keep travelers healthy.

“Just like the world was never the same again after 9/11, it will never be the same again post-pandemic. And there are protocols that we will be putting into place at our airport and businesses around the world that will become permanent,” said Calderone.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March the Albany International Airport has taken a number of steps to keep travelers and employees healthy — the airport was an early adopter of a mandatory mask policy, social distancing rules were introduced and enforced, improvements were made to the airport’s ventilation system, and new deep-cleaning technology was utilized.

But even Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said he himself has been nervous about flying.

“It’s about confidence. And I actually had to fly D.C. a couple weeks ago and myself was hesitant about wanting to fly, you know? Do I really want to fly? Do I want to walk through an airport?”

With the Thanksgiving holiday ahead a new technology is being deployed to put travelers at ease. Now, travelers checking in at the airport will notice QR codes posted on surfaces throughout the facility – like on ticket counters, for example. The codes can be scanned by a smartphone to bring up a page that will tell the user when that surface was last disinfected. It’s done through an app called Wellness Trace, developed by GE.

In addition to tracking which surfaces were recently cleaned, the technology in the app can also be used to track COVID-19 screening for passengers and employees. The Albany airport is GE Research’s first customer to utilize the tech.

Amy Linsebigler, a Chief Scientist at GE Research’s Niskayuna campus, says the mobile platform is designed to be easy to use.

“One of the things I always say is people want to be in the know, they want to be in power to make decisions. And so having that ability to scan those bar codes and really know what their environment is like from a safety prospective is really a great thing,” said Linsebigler.

During the last few months under the pandemic, Calderone said the Albany airport has been running at about 75 to 85 percent of normal business.

Calderone said the rollout of the Wellness Trace tech at the airport is part of a larger goal.

“We are just beginning the process of a master plan, the first master plan in 25 years for this airport. And it’s going to be our focus in that master plan – our primary focus – to develop Albany International into a cutting-edge ‘smart’ airport.” 

Calderone said additional technology is expected to be rolled out in the coming months with hopes that the airport becomes a “digital incubator” in its partnership with GE. And one more thing Calderone is envisioning for the future, an enhanced – if not expanded – main terminal building.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.