In pre-pandemic days, Ben McKeown spent a lot of time on the road, and even more in the air. As the commercial business manager at Team Eagle, a Campbellford company that specializes in innovative airfield technology, his is a unique experience of travel. Ben notes that when flying, most people wait until the plane has taken off before bothering to look outside. “But the whole time we’re sitting on the tarmac,” he says, “I’m looking out the window. Sometimes I’ll see a piece of equipment that we sold to the airport.”
Walking through a nearly empty airport in Chicago in March 2020, Ben had the ominous feeling that the world was about to change, but even with his insider view of the industry he couldn’t have predicted the year ahead. He arrived home, grounded for the first time in his seven years at Team Eagle.
Team Eagle was founded 21 years ago by Ben’s father, Steve McKeown, who built the business from the experience and reputation he cultivated while selling lawn equipment to the Department of National Defence.
This is more than just a flashlight. The lightboard can kill 99.9% of COVID-19 not only on surfaces but also in the ambient air.
The DND found that Steve’s company delivered the best equipment and provided great training and maintenance support. They wanted that level of quality for their airfield equipment, such as snow removal and aviation fire vehicles.
Steve launched Team Eagle to develop and sell sophisticated airfield operations equipment and software. One innovation that drew worldwide attention was a system that provides real-time updates on a multitude of runway conditions for pilots and airport operations personnel.
Today the company has grown to include an office, maintenance garages and R&D space overlooking the Trent-Severn Waterway. Two flags fly out front: one Canadian, one American – a nod to their US office located in New Hampshire.
Campbellford might seem an unlikely place to find a company leading innovation, but Ben says they’ve had great luck finding local talent as well as attracting people who are drawn to a desirable community that features an easy drive to cottage country.
The pandemic hit the whole aviation industry fast and hard, grounding flights and decimating consumer travel. With limited funding and an uncertain future, many airports suspended their planned purchases. Facing these challenges, Team Eagle did what they do best: they innovated.
“One of the concerns we heard from our friends at airports was around sharing fleet vehicles,” Ben explains. Equipment on the runways is shared from one shift to the next, and workers were worried about the transmission of COVID-19. There were relatively few options to solve the problem, and most involved disinfectant sprays that came with health risks to humans and were damaging to sensitive on-board technology.
The research and development team at Team Eagle dove into exploring UV light radiation, something already in use for disinfection in hospital settings. They created a device that operates by shining a UV LED light inside a car or piece of heavy equipment for a specified time. Team Eagle made their version portable – it’s just two feet by four inches, protected in a heavy-duty case, and powered by an ordinary 12-volt vehicle outlet.
“Picture the beam of a flashlight,” Ben says. “Anything the light touches would be cleaned.”
However, this is more than just a flashlight: a team at Western University found the lightboard could kill 99.9% of COVID-19, not only on surfaces but also in the ambient air. Depending on the size of the vehicle, total disinfection can take between 3 and 35 minutes.
By late summer 2020, the CleanRide UV-C™ lightboard was ready to go to market. Since innovative thought leads to more innovation, it quickly became obvious the technology wasn’t only specific to airfields: any sector with shared vehicles or equipment among co-workers was likely facing the same issue. A partnership with The V13 Policetech Accelerator, a joint venture of Cobourg Police Services and Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation provided an opportunity to try out the CleanRide in police vehicles. The lights are now being used in both firefighting and police work environments, not only in vehicles but also in indoor settings such as break rooms and washrooms.
Since he’s been unable to travel to meet with airport contacts or attend conferences, Ben spends half of each day calling up friends and colleagues at airports around the world.
He notes that the great size of Canada means there is a need for effective, functioning airports, particularly in northern and remote First Nation communities. Airports are not just good for the economy, Ben says, “they’re a lifeline.” With proper government and industry support, Team Eagle will be there to help.
The company has also spent the pandemic researching and developing new software for reporting on runway conditions and new solutions for snow removal. European airports are especially open to innovative technologies, and partners in Norway and Germany are a key part of the constellation of connections that Team Eagle maintains around the world. Connecting over snow removal equipment in a northern climate is also the inspiration for Ben’s top post-pandemic travel goal.
“When this is all over, I’m very excited to get over to Norway,” he says. “We’ve got partners there who we connected with during the pandemic, and I haven’t been able to meet them face to face. I think that will be one of my first flights.”
And with Team Eagle’s airfield operations technology involved, it’s bound to be a smooth takeoff and landing.