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A faculty member and student from Eastern Kentucky University’s nationally prominent aviation program recently earned a national award for a project aimed at enhancing airport safety.

Cameron Sidor, a junior aerospace management major from Richmond, and Kyle Knezevich, assistant professor of aviation, were awarded first place by the Academic Relations Committee of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) for their efforts. Sidor received $500 to assist with school expenses or professional development, such as attending a future conference.

As Knezevich explained, U.S. airports that handle commercial flights are required to develop and maintain an FAA-approved self-inspection program. During these inspections, the airport operator is required to inspect the airfield for a number of non-compliant conditions, to document any findings, provide any required remediation, and to keep a record of the inspections and any findings.

“It is during this process that the airport operator is often tasked with assigning priority to any non-compliant conditions found, which, in turn, can dictate the time in which it takes for the condition to be mitigated,” Knezevich said. “Our project seeks to eliminate discrepancies or bias in the prioritization of remediation efforts by applying a risk assessment matrix to a list of non-compliant conditions, which are then assigned a priority level based on a pre-determined level of threat for each condition.

“One of the key areas the industry is focused on right now is the implementation of safety management systems at airports,” he added, “so it was important for our efforts to be focused on something that was both timely and innovative.”

At each of its conferences, the AAAE sponsors an Academic Poster Contest to showcase capstone or research projects from academic members at colleges and universities. The projects can cover any aviation-related topic and may be done in groups or individually and in partnership with a faculty adviser or industry sponsor. This year’s conference in San Diego, California, was attended by more than 2,000 industry professionals and more than 70 students from across the country.

The literature review and project design was, “from the beginning,” a collaborative venture between Knezevich and Sidor. Knezevich’s background is in airport operations, with significant experience in safety and compliance, while Sidor has already benefited from two internships in airport operations and currently works at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, “so it was fairly easy for him to understand the topic and join in on the research.”

Knezevich said the research presentation, made by Sidor at the conference, “received a lot of positive feedback and commentary at the conference, so the next steps are currently being evaluated. It would be nice to have a few airports test the process out and eventually push the concept out to be incorporated across the country.”

This is not the first time Knezevich has mentored Sidor. He started coaching him in swimming when Sidor was 8. Their paths intersected again when Knezevich came to EKU in Fall of 2016, and Sidor was already a student in the Aviation Program. Knezevich has worked for six years as a member of the operations department at the Blue Grass Airport, and continues to work there occasionally in addition to his teaching, sometimes working alongside Sidor.

“Cam has been an exceptional student,” Knezevich said. “All of that experience with airports and AAAE as an organization (Sidor serves as vice president of its student chapter at EKU) made him an ideal partner for this project, and he did an exceptional job presenting it at the conference.”

EKU’s Aviation Program offers bachelor’s degree concentrations in aerospace management, aerospace technology and professional flight. For more information, visit

Founded in 1928, AAAE is the world’s largest professional organization for airport executives, representing thousands of airport management personnel at public-use commercial and general aviation airports.