In an exclusive interview with FTNnews, Rick Cotton, the Executive Director of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, shares his insights and vision for the future of air travel in the region.
With a distinguished career spanning several decades, including pivotal roles in major infrastructure projects and executive positions at NBC Universal, Cotton brings a wealth of experience to his current role. Since his appointment in August 2017, he has been instrumental in steering the Port Authority through innovative developments and modernizations.
In this conversation, Cotton discusses the record-breaking passenger numbers at Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International, and LaGuardia airports, the integration of cutting-edge technologies to enhance traveler experience, and his projections for the next decade in airport infrastructure and services. His answers provide a glimpse into the exciting advancements and commitments of the Port Authority to make NY/NJ airports a model for world-class facilities.
FTNnews: Could you please tell us about yourself
I became Executive Director of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in August 2017 and prior to joining the Port Authority, I served as New York State’s Special Counsellor to the Governor for Interagency Initiatives, focusing on the State’s major downstate infrastructure projects such as LaGuardia and JFK Airports, the Moynihan Train Hall and Penn-Farley Complex, the new Tappan Zee Bridge, the expansion of the Javits Center, and the MTA’s Second Avenue Subway project. Previously, I spent 25 years at NBC Universal as EVP and General Counsel and as President and Managing Director of CNBC Europe I also served as Executive Secretary to the Department at the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare under Secretary Joseph A. Califano, Jr. and Special Assistant for Renewable Energy to Deputy Secretary of Energy John Sawhill at the U.S. Department of Energy.
FTNnews: In the first half of 2023, Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports served a record-high number of passengers, surpassing the previous record set in 2019 by nearly 1 million and recording more than 69 million passengers. What the Port Authority of NY & NJ is offering to make life easier for all travelers coming in and out of their airports?
At the Port Authority of NY & NJ’s commercial airports, a smartphone, credit card, or even just your face can unlock a host of timesaving and stress-reducing options at the airport.
For example, at Newark Liberty’s new Terminal A, travelers no longer need to dig through luggage to find a boarding pass and passport at the gate. The terminal features E-gates, harnessing biometric information by comparing the passenger’s face to the photo on file with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. All scans are automatically deleted after 12 hours, and their use remains optional. The Port Authority is exploring the expansion of e-gates to Terminal B. Terminal A’s parking garage also includes digital signage indicating which levels have the most available spaces. A specialized overhead lighting system directs drivers to open spots. On the way, travelers can also reserve a security lane timeslot, making waits more predictable and less stressful.
FTNnews: More than 80 percent of all travelers entering the U.S. are now verified by facial recognition. How do you ensure the data privacy of travelers using the facial recognition system, what has the feedback been from international travelers regarding this process, and how are discrepancies or errors addressed?
All scans are automatically deleted after 12 hours, and their use remains optional. Data collected harnesses biometric information which is managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
FTNnews: Where do you see NY/NJ airports in the next decade in terms of traveler experience and infrastructure?
In an ever-evolving tech landscape, some businesses have found out the hard way that customer expectations are changing. The Port Authority of NY & NJ’s airports are looking to stay ahead of the curve. Looking towards the next decade, The Port Authority of NY & NJ will continue to make updates to the traveler experience through infrastructure transformation, technological updates and other means, all as a part of the agency’s $30 billion commitment to creating world-class facilities at all of the region’s airports.