Passport to airport career advancement: An interview with Stephen Saunders

Guest Author by Guest Author | Mar 19, 2020

The global aviation industry has come together to respond to the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak. One of the strengths of the industry is how knowledge, experience, and expertise is shared between airports during times of crisis. As the first worldwide association to represent the common interests of airports and foster cooperation with partners throughout the air transport industry, ACI World prides itself in providing such opportunities to its members.

The Secondee Programme offers a unique opportunity to work in a global environment while developing one’s reach within the industry. Past secondees have gone on to posts of increased responsibility in their respective organizations after their tenure with ACI as a result of their rich professional experiences and international exposure. ACI Insights has taken the opportunity to interview past and present secondees about their experiences, highlighting milestones they were able to achieve:

What made you choose aviation for your career?

Fascination of flight. The kid in me always looks to the sky when I hear an airplane in flight and my mind wonders about the role that plane is playing in connecting our world. I grew up about 10 minutes from the airport that I currently am working at and recall spending weekends watching planes take-off and land at the airplane viewing area with my Dad. Looking back, I think aviation has been hard coded into me from an early age.

Tell us about your career and experience so far?

I am forever grateful that I started my career in aviation on the front line. I was a baggage handler for a large airline for almost a year right after college and it created a fantastic base for my perspective today. I then moved into airport operations communications which allowed me to learn about all levels of this business. After graduating with my graduate degree in Organizational Leadership I moved into airport administration as an Operations Analyst which gave me the ability and training to allow data to tell a story that can be used to improve the airport business. From there I was given the opportunity to oversee the Terminal Operation primarily focused on fostering and developing positive relationships with our airport tenants and managing the day to day happenings of the airport operation. This role also gave me the freedom to start applying the always present curiosity that lives inside of me to create new and innovative ideas. I was in this role for a few years and then was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to be a Secondee at ACI-World looking after the New Experience Travel Technologies (NEXTT) initiative. After returning from my nearly one-year term at ACI-World I have assumed the role of Director of I.T. and Innovation at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). 

How did you find out about the programme at ACI World?

CVG and ACI have had a great relationship for many years as our current CEO is on the World Governing Board (WGB) and was previously the chair of the ACI-NA board. Through this relationship we learned of the opportunity and I was approached about stepping into the role.

What were you hoping to get out of the programme?

The unmatched ability to be connected and understand what is happening on all fronts in ACI-World’s mission to advocate for airports. Also, the ability to work on such a forward-thinking project that helps the aviation community prepare for the future was super exciting and desirable.

What was your role and what were your responsibilities as an ACI secondee?

Officially I was: Advisor – New Experience Travel Technologies (NEXTT). I was responsible for working in collaboration with IATA to develop and advocate for this joint initiative. The role was responsible for collaborating with airports, airlines, ICAO and the aviation community around the world to further refine the vision and deliver a clear message on how working together we can continue to advance our industry.  This included participating and organizing webinars, innovation bootcamps, speaking panels, collaborating on handbooks, and maintaining our voice through multiple channels.

ICAO Headquarters, Montreal, Quebec

What skills and new experiences did the programme provide you with?

I’m not quite certain I’ve fully realized the impact this experience had on me professionally and personally because it was so large. The full scale of benefits was unlike anything I’ve experienced in my life. The ability to connect with partners around the world to learn and share in the truly amazing concepts they’re developing is invaluable. The ability to work cross culturally was a new experience for which I am grateful. On the personal front, leading my young family to a new country and experiencing all that comes with that opportunity grew my family closer and something we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.

ACI Airport Exchange in Oslo, Norway November 2018

What were your achievements during your secondment at ACI?

I am proud to have worked with a great team that covered a lot of ground in the 10 months I was on site. We lead and contributed to a few innovation bootcamps that developed outcomes into concepts that are working through the committees to be implemented. I was also able to assist with developing and leading an innovation workshop that will be used in future meetings to engage and pull out innovative ideas to support the NEXTT vision. I helped lead the team in the creation of the Autonomous Vehicle Report publication. I’m sure I’m leaving something out but my time there was action packed with a plethora of accomplishments that the team should be very proud of.

NEXTT Workshop during ACI Airport Exchange Event in Abu Dhabi, UAE November 2019
NEXTT Workshop during ACI Airport Exchange Event in Abu Dhabi, UAE November 2019

When did you begin and end your secondment with ACI?

I began in early September 2018 and moved back to Cincinnati in mid-June 2019. I continued to work on the project until the end of 2019 and am still connected with the team as we prepare to send another secondee for a term.

Were there any opportunities that resulted from participating in the programme?

The opportunities to be a part of a truly amazing team that I’m certain will continue to do great work for years to come.

What is your current position?

Director of Innovation and I.T. at the Cincinnati Airport (CVG)

What are your future career plans?

I hope to one day be fortunate enough to lead an airport team that will ultimately implement some of the concepts developed through NEXTT aimed at elevating the aviation experience.

NEXTT interactive VR booth at ACI Airport Exchange Event in Abu Dhabi, UAE November 2019
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The ACI World Secondee Programme is a valuable tool for many organizations wishing to manage their talent for succession planning over the long term. The career development of employees is an essential business investment and the programme enables ACI to extend employees’ knowledge and skills, contributing to the continued excellence of the industry. Through the programme, ACI World continues to cultivate an environment founded on industry best practices and knowledge sharing.  

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