This HBCU Is Helping Students Become Trailblazers In The Aviation Industry
"I'm glad a program like what we're seeing at HBCUs exists because it’s a great profession that can be lucrative — and we are nowhere to be found," one pilot noted.
by Nick Fenley
August 08, 2022 at 9:15 pm
According to Zippia, only 1.2% of pilots in the United States are Black, and various barriers keep this statistic so low.
“The biggest problem is that flight school is expensive,” William McCormick, an FMU graduate who serves as the chair of the university’s board of trustees, said, NBC News reports.
“A lot of kids who don’t look like me can come to the program because they can afford to pay for flight time,” he continued. “We have to fix that so our students from an HBCU can join the program with ease, too. We want to be a pipeline for Black pilots just like we did with teachers and principals. But we need partnerships with people who care.”
ATP Flight School reports that students with no previous flying experience have to cough up over $90K to become a pilot, while students with a private pilot certificate have to pay upwards of $70K.
To help get Black pilots into the aviation field, FMU is working to make the industry more accessible, and the local community is also helping out.
“When I learned about how outstanding the aviation program is at Florida Memorial, we at the [Figgers] Foundation felt the need to help,” Freddie Figgers — owner of Figgers Communication, the nation’s only Black-owned telecommunications company, said. “I understand the road to becoming a pilot is long and hard and carries a large price tag, and we as a community have to do our part to change the numbers and give our kids a chance to be great.”
Figgers ultimately teamed up with Vince Young, a car dealership tycoon who’s also a former pilot, to donate $50,000 to FMU’s aviation program.
“Having something to hang on to like aviation really allows you to discover that there are no ceilings and that you can keep growing,” Young shared, NBC News reports. “It just makes you so much better, more focused and more skilled at everything you do.”
Retired pilot Bernard Harrison, who graduated from the aviation program at Norfolk State University (NSU), expressed similarly fond sentiments of his time as a pilot.
“I had a great career that I loved,” Harrison said, NBC News reports. “I’m glad a program like what we’re seeing at HBCUs exists because it’s a great profession that can be lucrative — and we are nowhere to be found.”
He went on to recall the environment of his profession, saying it was “just middle-aged white guys.”
“Fox News is blaring on the TV. And everybody’s looking at me like, ‘What are you doing here?'” Harrison noted. “It’s been their industry the whole time. The first Black commercial pilot didn’t fly until 1963 — and it took a change in law to get that done.”
Now, to help diversify this white-washed industry, FMU is stepping up to the plate to get more Black students through flight school.
“We have young people who are very interested in this field,” McCormick said, NBC News reports. “The hope is that the airlines will partner with us and increase the chances of our students getting in and through flight school.”
“I hope there are people, companies that will support us,” Johnson added, according to the outlet. “I really want this. I’m determined to not let the resources be a problem. But they are.”
Aside from FMU and NSU’s programs, a few other HBCUs with aviation initiatives include Hampton University, Elizabeth City State University and Delaware State University — three institutions partnered with United Airlines last year, as Blavity previously reported.