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University of Louisville, Muhammed Ali International Airport partner for first-of-it’s-kind ‘innovation lab’


By Baylee Pulliam
University of Louisville

The University of Louisville and Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) will collaborate on research that will enhance travelers’ experience and airport operations through innovation.

This is the first agreement of its kind for SDF, which will allow the airport campus – including all facilities, terminal and airfield – to serve as an innovation lab for UofL-led research projects. University faculty, students and airport staff will work together to identify opportunities for both technological and process improvements, then tackle them with UofL’s research capabilities.

UofL and the airport have established an innovation partnership. (Photo from Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport)

“UofL is a world-class research university and we are excited to establish this partnership with such a prominent institution in our community,” said Dan Mann, executive director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority. “With their researchers that revolutionize markets and industry sectors, it was a no-brainer to work with them to explore outside-of-the-box ideas that will transform our operations and the experiences of our customers at SDF. We strive every day to be the best airport in the country, and this collaboration is another element in making that a reality.”

UofL will conduct an evaluation this summer to identify possible projects. Researchers specializing in everything from engineering to business will tackle those projects, finding solutions that could be implemented industry-wide both in the terminal and on the airfield. Examples might include developing runway surfaces with extended lifecycles or improving the efficiency of airport terminal operations and passenger movement through technology.

“As a top-tier research university engaged in its community, UofL is proud to work with the airport toward continued innovation and growth,” said Kevin Gardner, UofL’s executive vice president for research and innovation. “This collaboration offers our researchers and students a rich, real-world innovation lab, where their work can have a meaningful impact on how the airport operates and how travelers to and from Louisville fly.”

The collaboration also will create experiential learning opportunities for UofL students. The idea is to give them real-world experience and skills, developed by working side by side with researchers and airport staff, that they can apply when they enter the workforce.

“We love building strong, impactful relationships with our industry partners,” said Will Metcalf, UofL’s associate vice president for research development and partnerships. “This work has significant potential to energize our regional economy, from driving workforce development to generating new technologies. The possibilities are endless.”

Darrell Watson, vice president of strategy and innovation for the Airport Authority, said this unique collaboration positions SDF as a leader in airport innovation. The ideas generated, he said, could revolutionize the way other airports operate.

“The thought of the entire airport campus as an innovation lab is a concept I have explored for a while,” Watson said. “SDF can be the launching point of ideas and concepts that may potentially be game-changers in the airport industry.”


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