Five-Minute Journey Paves the Way to a Global Aviation Career

Mike Zoia

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Nine years ago, a national recruiter reached out to Mike Zoia to ask if he’d consider exploring a security engineer position at a firm named Ross & Baruzzini.

“I had never heard of the company, but I was keeping my eyes open and thought it couldn’t hurt to have a conversation,” says Zoia, who was working at a small engineering consulting firm at the time. After an initial phone interview, the recruiter asked Zoia if he would be willing to travel to Webster Groves, Missouri—a St. Louis suburb—for an in-person interview with the potential employer.

“They didn’t realize I lived about five minutes away from Ross & Baruzzini’s office, so I told them I thought I could make that happen,” he recalls. “It just all kind of fell into place.”

Zoia signed on with the firm in December 2009 and began working on a series of small airport renovation projects leading up to the $2.7 billion Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program (TRIP) at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). The 4-million-square-foot project involved updating systems in all of the airport’s original terminals to create a consistent, efficient passenger experience.

“I was going down to DFW on an almost weekly basis, helping to lead the security and technology design for the overall terminal renovation program,” he says.

Zoia’s next projects took him even farther from home as he contributed his expertise to several new airport terminals taking shape across the Middle East. These included Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar; King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Hamad International Airport passenger terminal – Doha, Qatar.  Photo by Airchive.com

Hamad International Airport passenger terminal – Doha, Qatar. Photo by Airchive.com

“It was humbling to fly halfway across the world and be brought into meetings because you and your firm were the experts on aviation security and technology,” he says. “Being involved in those global mega-projects still to this day amazes me.”

About three years ago, Zoia took over Ross & Baruzzini’s North American aviation group, leading a team of about 25 airport security and technology specialists who focus on facilities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The group’s recent project work includes assignments at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Miami International Airport (MIA), Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) and Lambert St. Louis International Airport (STL).

Zoia’s extensive overseas experience is an asset to domestic airport clients, many of which are seeking to leverage global best practices to transform the passenger experience at their facilities.

“Clients are very much looking at how to make their facilities world class, including how to make the passenger experience the fun part of traveling, and not just something that you have to endure to get to where you want to go,” says Zoia.

Enhancing the passenger experience often involves modernizing an airport terminal’s technology infrastructure to support the Internet-centric activities of today’s travelers.

“People want to watch Netflix, shop on Amazon or take photos of their food while they’re waiting for a flight, and these activities put a large strain on an airport’s existing infrastructure,” he says.

North American airport terminals are also upgrading amenities, adding new retail and foodservice options, and providing more convenient ways of accessing tickets and getting through security.

New terminal at Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.  Photo by Gavin Peters .

New terminal at Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. Photo by Gavin Peters.

Soaring into the Future

Today, Ross & Baruzzini is one of only a handful of engineering firms with specialized expertise in aviation security and technology systems.

“The pool is small within the specialty systems area, and we’re one of a very few that has a large presence in the U.S. as well as international experience,” Zoia says. “I think that’s one of our differentiators that also helps us attract new, young talent.”

Zoia’s team specializes in the development of security and technology systems and the operational procedures that make them work together effectively. On a typical airport project, that may involve synthesizing up to 60 different systems.

“Our team is probably the firm’s most diverse group in terms of engineering backgrounds,” says Zoia, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in business & organizational security management. “That’s good because we bring different perspectives when we approach projects.”

Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles International Airport

And the team is well-positioned to secure future project work, as the North American aviation market is experiencing unprecedented expansion. Over the next three years, an estimated $70 billion will be spent to modernize aging aviation infrastructure at more than 50 U.S. airports, according to Architectural Record.

At the same time, passenger volume continues to climb. There were nearly 1 billion U.S. airline passengers in 2018—a 3.5 percent increase from the previous year’s volume—according to the trade association Airlines for America. Total annual passenger count for U.S. airlines has risen by almost 150 million passengers in just five years.

“A lot of airports have a lot of work going on, so it’s definitely an exciting time,” says Zoia. “And U.S. airports are starting to compete favorably with international terminal facilities. As long as we keep that momentum moving forward, they will definitely catch up.”

Though his job is demanding, Zoia enjoys the fast pace and the opportunity to tangibly improve air travel.

“It’s been a fun ride,” he says. “Being part of projects of this magnitude and seeing them featured in worldwide publications has been great. I don’t think I would change a thing—except maybe some of the delayed flights.”

Mike Zoia onsite in Mexico City

Mike Zoia onsite in Mexico City

Ross & Baruzzini is a Plotlines client.