What began as a modest mission, nearly 43 years ago, has grown into an international non-profit organization with more than 3,000 diverse aerospace professionals serving as members and role models for generations to come.
In 1976, Ben Thomas, a young African American pilot with Eastern Airlines, spearheaded an effort to form a permanent body to address discrimination in the airline industry. He invited thirty-seven African American pilots, representing nearly 50% of Blacks in the industry at the time, to convene at O-Hare Hilton Hotel in Chicago on September 17th and 18th.
This historical meeting resulted in the formation of The Organization of Black Airline Pilots (OBAP), now called, The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. OBAP’s mission focused on preparing youth and young adults to realize successful careers in aerospace.
The organization quickly became a prominent advocate and thought-leader for improving conditions industry-wide. Then in 1992, OBAP solidified its commitment to helping more youth, particularly minorities, gain exposure and opportunities in aviation by forming a partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement some of the first Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academies.
Now in more than 30 cities each summer, including St. Croix and San Juan, Puerto Rico, the OBAP ACE Academy welcomes about 560 students. Countless OBAP members like Brianna Adams, a flight attendant with Delta Air Lines, were bitten by the aviation bug after participating in an OBAP ACE Academy as a teenager.
However, our commitment to kids begins earlier! Since 2015, more than 110,000 elementary school-aged children have met an aerospace professional within their school.Aerospace Professionals in Schools (APIS) is a pillar of our organization and each year more than 200 OBAP members spend some of their free time paying it forward through exciting presentations and introductions to the world of aviation and aerospace. This year, OBAP piloted an initiative to take APIS internationally with unforgettable school visits in Jamaica, Senegal, Zambia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau of Labor Statistics, African Americans make up less than 3% of airline pilots. The majority of that precious population are proud OBAP members whose careers have been sparked, or simply propelled forward through our organization’s presence in their schools, communities, colleges and professions.
The first time twin pilots Jalal Paul and Jamil Paul, from Hackensack, New Jersey, met an African American pilot was an at OBAP Convention. They were seventeen. That dream-affirming experience led the brothers to join the organization and soak up the opportunities. They participated in OBAP’s Collegiate Series before graduating from the University of Dubuque with double majors in Flight Operations and Aviation Management. Both were awarded OBAP Scholarships; Jamil won the Horizon Air Pilot Scholarshipin 2015, and Jalal won the Brandon C. Francisco Achievement Scholarshipin 2016. Also a year a part, each secured internships in the EWR CPO program with United Airlines. Now first officers at regional carriers,these unstoppable brothers spend free time volunteering through APIS, and working toward their mutual goal of one day flying for United as captain and first officer on the same flight.
The escalating costs and multi-year commitment for flight training is often an enormous obstacle for aspiring aviators. Over the last five years OBAP has awarded more than $660,000 in scholarships to 125 recipients. Romullo Silva, a native of Brazil, successfully earned his private pilot license and instrument ratings with the support of scholarships. In 2018, Romullo won the One United Family Scholarship, valued at $10,000, which supported him through his commercial pilot license. Romullo recently shared,“Winning this scholarship will take me to the professionals. I will be a professional pilot and it will change the life of my family.” Romullo has since obtained all his type ratings and is accruing flight time in Houston, Tex. with plans to impress recruiters and secure his first airline job during OBAP’s 43rd Annual Convention in Los Angeles.
Naveed Baksh, a 2017 FedEx 757/767 Type Rating scholarship recipient, shared, “The scholarship that I received dawns a career that holds nothing but endless possibilities, some of the greatest academic and social experiences of my life, and some friends whom I will cherish as long as I live.” After rigorous training, interviews and more, Naveed was hired by FedEx. He credits the scholarship for providing him an opportunity that otherwise would not have existed for him. “It can seem a bit cliché to say that a scholarship changed my life, but it certainly has,” Naveed said.
Over the years our organization has grown to support the needs and dreams of our members while preparing ourselves for the demands of a changing industry. One invaluable member benefit is mentoring, coaching, and interview preparation through the Aerospace Professional Development Program (APDP), made up of diverse veterans in the industry. Since 2015, this selfless support group has helped more than 450 members succeed in interviews and secure promising careers in our industry.
Industry forecasts suggest an impending shortage of airline pilots, maintenance technicians and commercial cabin crew, due to the growth and broadening of the aerospace industry, coupled with the fact over the next 20 years, many pilots will retire.
Last year, OBAP amplified its commitment to supporting, training, educating and mentoring the next generation of professionals with the establishment of the Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Flight Academy in Olive Branch, Miss., just minutes from Memphis, Tenn. Our new academy, named for famed Tuskegee Airman and the first African American Air Traffic Specialist in Memphis, is on a mission to offer cost-effective training that leads to increased diversity in the industry. So far, we’ve trained students to earn six Private Pilot Licenses, one Commercial Pilot License, three Certified Flight Instructors, two Certified Flight Instructor – Instruments, one Certified Flight Multi-Engines Instructor, three Instrument Ratings and 11 solo flight experiences. In addition, we’re just getting started.
OBAP changes lives! We are a dynamic organization with something for everyone. Our upcoming 43rdAnnual Convention and Career Exposition (July 31-August 2 in Los Angeles, Calif., at Hilton LAX) is sure to be a fun-filled and jampacked experience for youth, college students, and professionals alike. We’re passionate about making opportunities more accessible and reducing barriers to participation and we invite you to join us. To learn more about OBAP and to become a member, visit obap.org.