"Airports Open to All"
Michael Huerta, Arlington, VA
August 29, 2012
Third Annual FAA National Civil Rights Training Conference for Airports
Good morning, Mamie (Mallory). Thank you very much for that very kind introduction. It is really an honor and pleasure to join you all today to talk about diversity and the importance of making sure that our airports all across this great country are open to everyone.
As aviation continues to evolve in the next two decades, we're really going to need to draw on the strength of everyone–all Americans and all of America's diversity–to help us build the very best aviation system in the world.
You make sure that business opportunities, as well as the airport doors, elevators, ramps, and signs are available and accessible to everyone.
In the aviation industry, as in many other industries, small business owners need to compete against very large and very well established companies.
And in each airport, travelers with disabilities may have to navigate their way through many obstacles to get from the parking lot to the airplane door. You are the people who help them get there. That makes a huge difference.
One of the programs you are focusing on this week is the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, which is designed to make sure there is equal access to business opportunities at America's airports. The program addresses the effects of past discrimination and attempts to level the playing field today.
I have to applaud the commitment of airports and all the other stakeholders in fostering disadvantaged businesses. I want to share some numbers that show these accomplishments.
First, about 23 percent of the revenue generated by the food, beverage, news and gifts in airports all across the country comes from businesses owned by women and minorities. These businesses generated nearly $1.8 billion in sales during fiscal year 2011. That represents nearly 1,300 firms.
Also, about $450 million went to disadvantaged companies and contractors in 2011 to support airport construction projects across the country. That's an increase of nearly 4 percent over the last two years. Nearly 2,000 DBE firms are working in this area and account for 16 percent of the total spending.
These numbers are positive indicators that minority and women-owned businesses are getting access to all parts of the airport and the many business opportunities that exist in the terminals as well as on the tarmac. Now we recognize that there is still room for improvement and that more opportunities need to be opened to more businesses.
The FAA reauthorization signed by President Obama earlier this year gives us the authority to use money for airport construction projects. It approves the funding of the Airport Improvement Program at approximately $3.4 billion dollars per year through 2015. That's good news for the FAA as well as for all of our airports.
The FAA looks forward to continuing to work with all of you not only on the items in the reauthorization, but to improve all aspects of civil rights in our airports.
As you know, Mamie has been named as the FAA new Assistant Administrator for Civil Rights. Her office has a huge responsibility to protect civil rights and to make sure there is a place for everyone at the table. There is a lot of work to do.
I have gotten to know her over the last couple years. Who would have thought an engineer with a very, very strong passion would be taking the lead in doing what is such important work for all of us at the FAA. But Mamie is a true champion. Someone who works tirelessly to ensure that disadvantaged businesses have opportunities, and that we have a diverse workforce and that we're doing all that we can to ensure that there is equal opportunity for all Americans in everything that the FAA does. Mamie, thank you very much for your work.
Diversity, fairness and inclusion are very important to me, personally. My father ran a very small business in Riverside, California. He restored antiques and refinished furniture. He did not complete high school. But he was able to build a business that sent four of us to college and that provided very well for our family. He was an artist and someone who really taught me a lot about the principles of hard work, never giving up, and looking for opportunities—sometimes in the strangest places.
You can actually see his work. It is anonymous. But if you visit a lot of museums in California, you will see a lot of his work on display there–historic artifacts from the history of the golden state.
In order to have the best outcomes at all of our airports, we have to follow those same lessons. We really have to focus on collaborating with our stakeholders. And we need to draw on where there are opportunities and the strength of diversity that we have as a society.
You are all involved in different aspects of civil rights. I would like to step back and give you a brief overview of the larger changes that I see coming in the aviation industry that you all support and where we are going over the next 15 years. And also why we need a workforce that is diverse in skills and points of view in order to meet the challenges that we have ahead of us between now and 2025.
We are at an extremely historic time in aviation. The decisions we are making today and in the years ahead are really going to influence how our industry evolves. Not only over the next couple of years, but over the next 25, 30 and 40 years.
The President frequently talks about the importance of infrastructure here in America. And the largest infrastructure project of them all is the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen. It is a shared responsibility between the FAA, our contractors and our users–in fact all Americans who use aviation. It is a public-private venture and very cooperative in nature.
As you heard from Mamie, what we're doing with NextGen is transforming the ground based radar systems that have served us very well in the first century of aviation, and we're transitioning to a satellite based system that is really going to fundamentally reshape how we manage our national airspace system in the future.
If you think about it, radar is a very safe system. It has served us very well. But viewing a radar image of what is happening in our national airspace system is a lot like looking at an impressionist painting.
It's a little fuzzy. Not exactly precise. You can see everything that is going on, and you have your landmarks. But just contrast that image with where we're going with NextGen. It is like transitioning from that impressionist painting to a high definition TV that is very precise. NextGen has real time updates that provide us the ability to move aircraft much more precisely and to respond much more quickly to the growing demand that we have on our aviation system.
It makes it more efficient and makes it even safer than it is today.
We're also changing how we communicate with airplanes. Today there is a lot of interaction between a controller and a pilot. And that takes up a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort.
That's all being addressed with a program called Datacomm, which will transmit the instructions electronically in ways that maximize efficiency and minimize the likelihood of errors in the system.
Those are a couple examples of what we're doing as we modernize the air traffic control system. It's not just in the United States. The whole world is moving in this direction.
NextGen affects each and every aspect of aviation–air traffic, safety, commercial space and yes, airports.
Early on, our colleague Kate Lang, our Deputy Associate Administrator for airports, had a pithy description of NextGen when she was talking to an airports conference. She was asked the question why should airports be concerned about NextGen. How does it affect airports? She provided the perfect answer: "Eventually, you have to land," she said.
But it is really much more than that. It really affects how the airports interact with the communities they serve. And fundamentally, airports are really the central point in how our aviation system interacts with Americans each and every day.
Listening to different perspectives is absolutely critical to deploying NextGen successfully.
The changes of NextGen are so far reaching that the same way of thinking will not get us there.
We are used to working in a regulation and compliance environment. But what NextGen sets up is a shared responsibility, a collaborative responsibility with the industry that we regulate. That's a very different way of doing business for us.
We need new thinking. And this is why–more than ever–we need diversity of thought and skills in our workforce. We need the ability to think globally, to hear from all of our stakeholders, and to make better decisions as a result of all of that.
As I have said, NextGen means enhanced safety, greater access to airports, a smaller impact on the environment and more predictable schedules for travelers. And we're already seeing these benefits in metropolitan areas today.
We have programs where we're designing much more advanced navigation procedures in about 13 metro areas all around the country. It will grow to 20 in the next few years. These changes, combined with the big system changes that we're making, are greatly improving efficiency in the national airspace system. As we move forward I have asked the senior leadership of the FAA to focus on three main areas.
First, we have the safest aviation system in the world. But we all know that we need to continue to raise the bar on safety. And the challenge is if you have a system that is so safe–we haven't had a commercial aviation fatality in more than three and a half years–a system that is so very safe–how do you raise the bar on safety? Well, the way you do that is you make it smarter through the better use of data so that we can forecast where there might be risk in the system and take steps to address that.
Second, we have talked a lot about technology. And we have talked a lot about the need to deploy technology successfully. But technology is not a black box that we are deploying just for the sake of deploying technology. We're deploying technology because we want to see benefits. And so the real challenge for us is how do we accelerate the benefits of area navigation procedures. Those benefits are very significant–they reduce track miles, reduce fuel burn, leave a smaller environmental footprint and less noise in communities. Those are things that Americans get very excited about. How do we accelerate those benefits and ensure that we can deliver them as quickly as possible.
And finally, it's about people. We need to make sure that we empower our 47,000 FAA employees to embrace innovation and to work efficiently. This efficiency will translate into better policy, enhanced oversight, better monitoring and targeted training.
In addition to going through a technological transformation, we're also going through a generational transformation at the FAA. Between now and 2014, about 30 percent of our workforce will become eligible to retire, which is not to say that they will. So that presents both a challenge and an opportunity for us.
The challenge is how do we take advantage of the experience and the tremendous contribution of a senior workforce as they move toward a well-deserved retirement. And at the same time leverage and energize a younger generation that shares the same passion for aviation and shares the same commitment to safety that has served us so well but thinks about it in very different ways in terms of how to use information and how they work collaboratively with one another. It is a great opportunity for us.
As we do all of this, there is one core principle that we all need to think about in everything that we do.
We need to ask ourselves, how are the results that I am delivering through my work meaningful and tangible to the American people? If we always remind ourselves who we serve and who our customers are–our fellow taxpayers and the traveling public–it helps guide us in the right direction. That is something we can't lose sight of in the work we do every day.
When you resolve a complaint about curb access from a traveler in a wheelchair, or ensure that signage is multilingual, or that communities impacted by noise have a voice–your work is meaningful and tangible. You are on the front lines of dealing with the American people every day. It makes a difference.
All of you working in airports have to figure out ways to make sure you are getting the most out of your civil rights programs. The fact that you care does make a tremendous difference.
Our Civil Rights office has looked at DBE programs around the country and is developing a best practices tool to help airports achieve the best results.
We applaud the success of hundreds of airports and the positive impact their contracts have on small and disadvantaged businesses. Many of these businesses are thriving and that is encouraging news. As you know, small businesses are engines that drive the economy and create jobs. That's something that all of us have a responsibility to support.
In the last few years, we have seen tremendous activity in terms of regulations, guidance, and new program areas for civil rights.
We at the FAA work very hard each and every day so that no one experiences discrimination at our nation's airports.
At the FAA, respect for diversity and civil rights is part of our Standard Operating Procedure. While we understand it is our legal responsibility, more fundamentally, it is the right thing to do–for individuals, for the agency, and for our country. We can't afford to overlook the talents of even a single individual or the rights of those doing business at our airports or with the federal government.
So thank you for your hard work in helping us meet our common goals. I wish you a very successful conference.