The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) Luke Weathers Flight Academy received a generous donation from American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) during the 46th annual OBAP conference.
The airline, which also served as the title sponsor for last week’s event held in Phoenix, Arizona, handed over a $1.5 million check to boost the academy’s operation and to fund yearly student scholarships.
Airline CEO Robert Isom was present during the ceremony to hand the big check over to the academy’s co-directors, Captains Jeff Harrison and Albert Glenn, and its general aviation manager, Germilla Taylor, who all joined Isom on stage for the announcement. Christina Flores, the managing director for global talent and inclusion at American Airlines, was also present.
In a statement, Isom said his company’s team strength comes from having a diverse group of workers, especially pilots. Moreover, he said it is essential to support young people who want to enter the industry by lowering the financial hurdle they have to overcome to become airline pilots.
“We must expose young people to careers in aviation, provide relief to financial barriers and increase the number of underrepresented minority pilots on the flight deck,” Isom said.
Glenn, a retired captain, expressed gratitude for the support and echoed the CEO’s sentiments.
“The Luke Weathers Flight Academy is a one-of-a-kind training ground where students of all backgrounds, especially aspiring pilots of color, can receive the training, support, and mentorship pivotal to their success in the pilot profession,” Glenn said.
The Luke Weathers Flight Academy
The Luke Weathers Flight Academy is a non-profit school based at the Olive Branch Airport (KOLV) in Mississippi. It’s named after Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr., the FAA’s first African-American air traffic controller. Weathers was based at Memphis International Airport (KMEM). OBAP launched the program in 2018 as an initiative to increase diversity in the airline industry through a commitment to training 50 pilots per year over the next five years.
The academy has targeted more than 225 high-school students from the Memphis area. It will subsidize their flight training, through scholarships and tuition reimbursement, from student pilots to flight instructor ratings. For instance, OBAP’s member-students get a 10 percent discount on flight training.
In addition to a “zero-CFI” total immersion course, the academy offers options to gain certifications such as a certified multiengine instructor or ground instructor ratings. Additional programs include jet and military rotary to fixed wing transition programs, maintenance and air traffic control academies, youth UAV pilot training, and mentoring.
The organization said its “aggressive” target is to train 50 CFIs, 125 high-school solo academy pilots, 50 airline pilots, and 100 Black women by 2025. So far, OBAP says it has achieved 20 percent of its CFI target, i.e., 10 instructors. Of the 125 students who plan to solo, 55, or 44 percent, have already had their shirt tails cut. The academy—which has introduced 33 out of 100 Black women to flying—has graduated 10 of 50 pilots to airline careers.
From the American funding, $750,000 will go towards a resource grant, and $250,000 will fund scholarships. The airline will also award $250,000 in additional scholarships for the next two years.
During the conference, American extended 45 job offers to OBAP members—the only mainline carrier at the event to do so.
“American’s support will only amplify our ability to prepare more aviators for successful careers,” Glenn said.
Ramping Up Outreach Amid a Pilot Shortage
With the industry facing a deep-pilot shortage, airlines are ramping up their efforts to recruit and retain pilots. Analysts have predicted that the U.S. airline industry will be short 26,000 pilots by 2030, unless they increase efforts to recruit, train, and retain pilots.
These outreach efforts by groups, like OBAP in partnership with American, aim to get a jumpstart by engaging with young people earlier in their career journeys. American also said it hosted more than 150 students across its facilities throughout the summer as a part of OBAP’s Aerospace Career Education (ACE) Academy, designed to give middle to high-school students hands-on aviation experiences.
In July, American flew roughly 100 students in a private charter from Chicago to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the EAA’s AirVenture airshow. The flight was piloted by OBAP members who work for the airline.
Capt. David Ricketts, the flight’s captain, said, “I joined OBAP over 25 years ago when I was finding my way as a pilot, and there weren’t many people who looked like me. Now, I am grateful to be on the other side where I can use my platform to mentor diverse youth to be successful pilots.”
Separately, earlier this year, American Airlines created the Elise Eberwein American Airlines Pilot Scholarship, named for a retiring executive who served as a vice-president of people and global engagement. The $10 million scholarship, or a million per year over 10 years, is designed to enhance the airline’s pilot recruitment. Each year, two candidates will receive $500,000 for training through the American Airlines Cadet Academy, launched in 2018.