Did you know you can own your own plane and fly it almost anywhere you want? A lot of people don’t realize that you can if you have a private pilot’s license.

D’Juan Love found the Kansas City Chapter of Black Pilots of America on social media and his eyes were opened to the possibilities.

“I found out that the same way you can own and drive your own car, you can own and fly your own plane,” Love said. “You can get into your own plane and go where you want to go.”

After finding them online, Love became an active member of BPA. The organization has a variety of members: from less experienced members training to become pilots to members who have years of experience. What they all have in common is an enthusiasm for flying, not necessarily as passengers, but as pilots.

Rick Haile, president of the Kansas City chapter of BPA has worked in the aviation industry for 12 years. When he first joined BPA, he said he was attracted to the group’s friendliness, which is clear to see, especially at their monthly meetings.

Like with any skill, Haile says pilots are always learning and sharpening their skills. So beyond their regular membership business, at their meetings, the members discuss practice questions for the pilot’s test and give short presentations about best flying practices.

National Organization, National Need

The national BPA organization started just over 20 years ago as a way for aviation enthusiasts to support, educate and encourage each other. The organization has a strong focus on mentorship and scholarship, particularly as a way to encourage youth to pursue careers in the field of aviation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 3% of commercial pilots are Black, and less than 1% are Black women.

There are many reasons why the numbers are so low, including the high costs associated with student pilot training, the lack of access and the aviation industry’s discriminatory history. Despite the historic success of the Tuskegee Airmen, It was not until the 60s that the American airline industry hired its first Black pilot, and that took a Supreme Court ruling. David Harris was hired by American Airlines. Marlon D. Green followed close behind him. Then, slowly the industry began to open up and hire more Black pilots. 

Now, with rapid growth in the number of air travel passengers, there’s a looming shortage in pilots. According to the International Air Transport Association, the current 4 billion air travel passengers are expected to nearly double by 2036. However, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were over 800,000 pilots in 1987, but that number has decreased by 30%.

Commercial pilots are going to be needed more than ever in the next 20 years and people of color should start preparing now to fill those well paid positions.

Introducing Youth to Aviation

Like many, Love did not think there was a place for Black people in aviation, mostly because he had not been exposed to the possibilities before he joined BPA. One of the goals of the organization is to expose Black youth to the aviation industry, so they can see people like themselves and know there is an opportunity for them to succeed in the field as well.

Before the pandemic, BPA reached out to local schools. Makeda Hawk, a member of the Kansas City BPA and commercial airline pilot, visited schools to talk to students, particularly girls, who may not have known Black female pilots exist. She spoke to students about her journey to becoming a pilot and let them know it is possible for them, too.

You can learn more about or connect with the Kansas City Chapter of Black Pilots of America via their Facebook page HERE.

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