Typically at a conference like this, you’d hear someone like me say, “These conferences are important.” And they are.
Then, I’d say something like, “Our numbers aren’t as good as we want them to be.” Well, that’s true, too.
And then it would be time to talk about how we could all do a better job. Again, hard to argue.
So let’s just start from the place where we agree. This is important. The final totals are still being tabulated, but in 2016, we awarded $1.6 billion from the Airport Improvement Program. Of that amount, $195 million went to minority and women-owned businesses. Over the course of the next few days, you’re going to hear about accessibility, contract opportunity, creating a fair and open environment. Look at airports today: you’ve already helped to eliminate obstacles for the passenger and create opportunities for women-owned and small businesses. But we need you to do even more.
That’s the shortest speech you ever heard, right?
I’m going to ask you to take each of those points and look at them from a different perspective.
This is about ensuring a level playing field with DOT-assisted contracts. It’s about fostering equal opportunity—not because it’s the law. It’s something we need to do because it’s the right thing to do. And even more than that, it’s the smart thing to do. Diversity brings competitive advantage to our industry. Diversity spurs innovation.
If I were to ask you what are the biggest advances in the history of aviation, you might say cabin pressurization, the black box, radar, the jumbo jet, winglets and ailerons. As a pilot, I vote for anything that keeps me from bumping into planes, trucks, trams or carts on the airport surface. There aren’t a lot of pilots who’d disagree with me.
Let’s take this one step further. Suppose I asked you to give me the ethnicity of the people who developed those advances. Chances are you couldn’t do it. I can’t, and I can tell you that I frankly have no interest in knowing who put those things in my plane. I have great interest in the fact that they made it into the plane.
But suppose I took the position that who invented them was more important than the invention itself.
And that, folks, is why I think diversity is important. I care a lot that the job gets done and that it gets done right. Good business practice tells you diversity and inclusion make for a great business practice. Mamie Mallory isn’t known for mincing words, and when she says, “This is a great deal. Especially for small businesses. Especially for women-owned businesses,” she is on-point, precisely on-point. She’s saying out loud what we all know intrinsically: The smart money is on diversity and inclusion. Different perspectives make for a better product, and they certainly expand your customer base. Logically, that simply must be true. This conference is all about making sure we know how to get there from here, that we know the regulations and how to get it done.
Airports have come a long way, a very long way. There was a time where airports were segregated. That’s a shameful chapter long since closed. But I’m pleased to see that we’re taking that as a springboard: braille signage, curb cuts … accommodations for mothers and babies. We even pay attention to service animals.
And as well we should. Here’s the application point, the takeaway I’m hoping you will take away. You are the catalysts who make these things happen at the airport. At this conference, I need you to pick up tips and best practices and even a little inspiration to make it so that the next time around, we’re talking about how we’ve expanded, how our numbers are in a steep, upward climb. There are lots of smart people in this room, lots of operators and decisions makers. You can shape the future of aviation in ways that most people only dream about. You steer the businesses that are at the heart of the system.
American airports are the linchpin to what I think is the greatest nerve network on the planet. They are the power grid of commerce. They make or break the travel plans of 700 million passengers every year.
And without you bringing your A-game, it’s hard to step up, but as the Administrator has been saying for quite some time, step up we must.
You are the people who make diversity and inclusion happen. You are the people who could be the catalyst to an even brighter future for all of aviation. I look forward to hearing good reports in the future. Accessibility. Contracting opportunities. A fair and open environment. Let me say in closing that as I look around the room, the future is in good hands. Good hands indeed.