jacqueline-pilot_web.jpgThirty-two years ago, Benjamin Thomas, a young black pilot working for Eastern airlines, decided to do something to change the appallingly small number of black pilots within the United States’ airline industry.

He took it upon himself to organize a permanent international body of associates that would address the fair recognition of black persons and the issue of racial disparities concerning employment in the American aviation field.

On Sept. 17 and 18 of 1976, thirty-seven of the airline industry's approximately 80 black pilots met at the O'Hare Hilton Hotel in Chicago and, as a result of that meeting, the Organization of Black Airline Pilots was born.

The group is dedicated to the advancement of the participation of blacks and other minorities in the aviation industry. It exposes minorities to careers in aviation, and offers scholarships, training and mentorship in the relevant fields.

The group held its 32nd annual convention at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa from Aug. 12 to 16.

Cheryl Chew, the organization’s executive director, said, “The annual convention serves a couple of purposes. Primarily, it is an opportunity for an annual gathering of our general membership and it is also an opportunity for black pilots to look for employment.”

She continued, “Its career fair serves as an exposition to career fields, which is where potential candidates can come and talk to employers about industry opportunities and get resume feedback and mentoring from professionals while networking with the corporation.”

The convention featured many events, such as the Career Fair & Employment Network Hall, which had 46 exhibitors.

Other groups such as the Black Flight Attendants of America, the Negro Airmen International and the U.S. Army Black Aviation held meetings at the convention. The Bessie Coleman Foundation’s 3rd annual Fly-Sister-Fly Empowerment Breakfast honored “Sisters of Distinction for 2008.”

Dave Harris, the first black commercial airline pilot, was also honored in conjunction with the founding members of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots at the group’s Thursday morning “Pioneers Breakfast.”

The organization has had many accomplishments during its 32 years of existence. In addition to allowing black pilots and other people in the aviation field to network, the group has also established scholarships for young people who are interested in aviation.
The organization also makes job recommendations to other groups that help sponsor the convention.

Capt. Albert Glenn, advisor to the president of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots and its board of directors said, “We have a challenge to help those who have an interest in aviation because it’s pretty much a wide open field. Now there’s a shortage of pilots and aviation professionals and the idea behind our Project Aerospace is to create the next work force and ensure that we become a part of that work force.”

Karl Minter, the current president of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, has been continuing the legacy of founder Benjamin Thomas by carrying out the purpose of the organization.

He said, “[The issue of access to education and training for minorities] is pretty much the same as it was in the 70’s; there were barriers to getting jobs. Those problems still exist today. Out of 125,000 commercial pilots in the U.S. today less than 1 percent are African-American and, of that, maybe 350 are African-American females. There is a huge disparity in the numbers and we try to get persons from the education process to being hired.”

He continued, “It is not a leveled playing field; the economic barrier is that it costs anywhere between $70,000 to $100,000 to do training. Young disadvantaged youth don’t have that kind of resource so we provide scholarship dollars, mentoring and other opportunities. This year alone we’re going to provide close to $700,000 dollars in scholarship money at the convention.”


Photo: Jacqueline Pilot, director of the Bessie Coleman Foundation