2021 Airport Business Top 40 Under 40: Stephen Saunders, Director Innovation and Information Technology, CVG Airport

Dec. 9, 2021

Stephen Saunders has been at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) for 12 years, working in various roles all while climbing higher. Saunders first started as a ramp worker for one of the airlines at CVG, then moved to an emergency dispatcher, advanced into an analyst role and was then promoted onto customer service terminal management. Saunders left CVG for a year-long assignment with ACI World in Montreal as a secondee, and then returned to the airport, excelling into the role of director of Innovation and IT.

“I tell people all the time, I wouldn't change my path to get to where I am today, and I still have a lot of room to grow. I certainly have not arrived. But I think starting on the front line and developing relationships and perspective, not just being dropped into an administrative role, right out of college, has served me extremely well. Because it really helps me understand the fundamentals of this business on a day-to-day basis,” Saunders said.

Saunders is front and center on CVG’s brand strategy centered around strategic growth, customer delivery, community connectivity and enhancing the business portfolio by developing new streams of revenue. He was instrumental in the initial development phase and deployment of a joint ACI IATA venture in developing the New Experience Travel Technologies (NEXTT) initiative. This assignment fit quite well with his prior experience at CVG, being on the leading edge of introducing Internet of Things (IoT) technologies into the airport operating environment.

After successfully demonstrating a proof of concept with graduate students and educators from Purdue University, Saunders program managed the introduction of what is now Veovo’s capacity management solution, previously known as BlipTrack. CVG was the first airport in the U.S. to introduce security wait times using IoT in 2014.

“The complexity of taking on the business challenges of today and planning for those of tomorrow using increasingly accessible advanced technology solutions is extremely intriguing. Designing, testing, and delivering solutions that go against traditional ways of thinking serves my insatiable curiosity. It just takes those of us that are constantly asking ‘what if’ that can open doors to tremendous amounts of learning and progress,” Saunders said.

As a pivotal leader among the airport’s innovation team, Saunders is quick to source nontraditional solutions and startups, determine if there is product development or enhancement to be made, and derive licensing opportunities or revenue share agreements off the same. And where a solution may not exist, exploration into the unknown is on the cusp – Saunders is leading the path to CVG’s first patentable single pane of glass developed by an airport for airports. This patent opportunity and innovation deployments are case studies for CVG personnel and other airport colleagues around how innovation is far more than just new technology.

Saunders said that what motivates him is not only pushing CVG forward, but the airport industry as a whole forward.

“Airports are fiercely focused on being economic drivers and assets to the communities they serve through their core business and CVG is no different. But we view our innovation efforts at CVG as going beyond our local reach and impacting the entire aviation ecosystem for the better. At times we take bold steps into new areas that our industry traditionally may be reluctant to go. It is in these new areas that we get an audacious look at the future of where we are headed. It is truly an honor for me to get a front row seat on this amazing journey,” Saunders said.

About the Author

Walker Jaroch | Editor

Contact: Walker Jaroch

Editor | AMT

[email protected]


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