Monica Garske

Airport Looking for 3rd-Party Operator to Oversee Innovation Lab

The lab is a 3,500-square-foot space in the former Commuter Terminal, designed to mirror a “mini airport"

The San Diego International Airport is on the hunt for a third-party operator (an individual or a firm) to take over its “innovation lab,” which the airport launched earlier this year.

The lab is essentially a 3,500-square-foot space in the former Commuter Terminal (decommissioned in 2015), which was designed to mirror a “mini airport.” The space is complete with check-in counters and a baggage claim area, equipped with leftover equipment from the Commuter Terminal.

The lab is meant to serve as a place where innovators can dream up and test new ideas to deploy in airports, away from the traffic and bustle of the actual airport floor.

The space has already led to two partnerships with tech companies planning to launch a delivery service of food and retail items within the airport. The partners are Houston-headquartered Grab, which makes a mobile ordering application, and Orange County-based AtYourGate, which operates an in-airport personal shopping service for travelers and flight crews.

Troy Leech, director of aviation and community business at the airport, said earlier this year that airports have to adjust their business models as technology evolves.

“The innovation lab allows us to take advantage of the great minds outside of our organization to look into the future and see things we can’t even anticipate right now,” Leech said.

Because the Airport Authority is a public entity, the airport issues Request for Proposals (RFP) when it needs work done, whether it’s baggage claim repair or software development. After reviewing specs, companies can bid on the projects.

The lab – and the labor-intensive RFP process – needs more attention than the airport can provide. But that was part of the plan all along, said Rick Bellioti, director of Innovation and Small Business at the airport.

“A third party operator is needed to help coordinate and manage the activities in the space, with oversight by the Airport Authority,” Bellioti said in an email. “We have been discussing the need for someone to manage the space since the inception of the Innovation Lab.”

Whoever is chosen to be the third-party operator of the lab will be paid a maximum of $150,000 per year for two years, with options for three one-year extensions, according to the airport statement. The scope of the work includes providing project management, advising on build-out of the lab, refinement of the website, reviewing proposal submittals and facilitating selection, and overseeing day-to-day operations.

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