National Civil Rights Training Conference (NCRTC) for Airports

Administrator Stephen M Dickson (August 12, 2019 - present)

Good morning, everyone.

I’m honored to be here on the opening day of the 12th annual FAA National Civil Rights Training Conference for Airports.

We gather here at a consequential time, to talk about equal opportunity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and the importance of making sure that our nation’s airports are open to everyone—travelers, operators, and concessionaires alike.

We come to this year’s conference with a new Administration that has an energized emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion across all government and transportation modes.

That means a lot of emphasis on airports. There are new executive orders that emphasize the importance of achieving equity in federally funded programs at airports.

There are new DOT internal orders related to environmental justice and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that governs how the FAA oversees airports for nondiscrimination compliance.

Part of our job at the FAA is to help airports make sense of all these changes that advance civil rights, but at the same time may affect your eligibility for federal funding. And that’s a big part of why we’ve asked everyone to join us for this conference today and tomorrow.

Working with the DOT, we’ve had many years of practice in making the travel experience a model for equal access and opportunities for everyone.

Starting in the 1970s, we established requirements for nondiscrimination on the basis of disability at federally funded airports under Sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. We issued guidance to airlines on how best to assist passengers with a wide variety of disabilities, including people who are blind or deaf.

We expanded anti-discrimination actions in 1986 with the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act, which required airlines to become as accessible and accommodating as possible. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act sought to level the playing field in all areas of the American experience for people with disabilities, including at airports.

Today, approximately 30 million people with disabilities are already regular travelers in our aviation system, and we expect the numbers to grow substantially. To me, this means airports and airlines have greatly improved accessibility for all air travelers.

That’s reassuring, because the accessibility requirements can be highly technical. In addition, they are continuing to evolve. There have been several updated regulations for aviation accessibility in just the last few years, including requirements for accessible kiosks, and service animal relief areas in our nation’s airports. 

The work never stops. Right now, there are ongoing discussions at the DOT, the FAA, and in Congress, for ways to improve the requirements, including through the accessibility issues advisory groups and studies required under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

Case in point: Congress recently passed a law to better ensure that nursing mothers, parents of any gender, and people with disabilities can travel freely and with dignity. 

Starting this year, airports are required to have private and accessible nursing areas in every airport terminal.  They are also required to have accessible changing tables for children, in all types of restrooms, not just women’s restrooms. 

We’re rolling these requirements out to larger airports first, but soon all large, medium, and small hub airports will need to comply if they want to be eligible for FAA grants. 

Compliance can get more complicated when you consider the latest treasure trove of census information about the communities surrounding airports. Consider this: With the new information, airports will need to update their tools for evaluating potential impacts on communities, to ensure that there are no disparate impacts. 

Updated census information also means that airports, to remain in compliance with executive orders and DOT guidance, will have to analyze language assistance needs for individuals with limited English proficiency.

As I said, it gets complicated, and the public is very aware of their rights, as they should be! In fact, as numbers of travelers has increased again since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen more complaints concerning potential civil rights compliance issues. 

Airports are also facing new challenges as they incorporate new protections, including mask requirements, in a way that ensures that the rights of people with disabilities and people of different religious faiths are also protected. 

It is important that airport sponsors give these complaints the attention that they require, keep records, provide responses as required by law, and work with FAA in order to address any critical or complex issues.

And that’s the key phrase: Work with the FAA.

As I said earlier, part of our job is to make sure you can do your job. We need each other to make the travel experience as good and accessible as it can possibly be when it comes to civil rights.

It’s clear that we in government have the will and means to make all of this happen, but airports are on the front lines for actually delivering a great travel experience. We need each other.

So thank you for being here and working with us to eliminate all forms of discrimination in the travel experience. And thank you for helping us make sure airports will be accessible to everyone.

I know that John Benison and his team will provide you with the necessary guidance, tools, and support to ensure this will be a productive experience over the next two days.

Thanks again.