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FLIGHT Act looks to attract minority pilots to the skies

[July 28, 2020: Delaware State News]



When U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., looks inside the cockpits of aircraft soaring through the skies, he notices a void of Black pilots behind the controls.


He, along with other lawmakers, are working on changing that. Sens. Coons and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Reps. Anthony Brown, D-Md., and Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., have introduced a Defense Authorization bill called the FLIGHT Act, which hopes to provide new resources for ROTC students at historically Black colleges and universities and minority institutions, with special emphasis on support for flight training. The bill passed the Senate on Thursday.


The House of Representatives also passed similar language in its own Defense Authorization last week.


“I am proud and encouraged to see the FLIGHT Act on its way to becoming law,” Sen. Coons said in a statement. “Now more than ever, we are reminded how vital it is that our leaders, our guardians and our role models reflect the diversity of America itself. Our service members come from all walks of life, but people of color remain underrepresented at the military’s highest levels.”

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The bill will encourage minorities participating in ROTC to pursue flight training opportunities, such as the training program offered at Delaware State University, which operates a fleet of 21 aircraft out of Delaware Airpark in Cheswold.


That, said Roger Kruser, assistant flight instructor at DSU, would be a great thing.


“Personally, I think it’s a great idea,” Mr. Kruser said. “Anything to get more pilots into the world. We’re desperate for pilots in the industry, and a lot of things have happened in general aviation that kind of dried up the pool of pilots that used to come from thousands of little airports all over the country.


“We’ve gotten to the point where (university and college flight programs are) probably the last avenue for somebody to get into the professional pilot career field.”


Black people are also underrepresented in American military leadership — particularly at higher ranks and in high-investment, training-intensive specialties like aviation. As a whole, the Air Force is almost 20% African American. However, only 1.7% of Air Force pilots and less than 3% of civilian pilots are Black. Similar asymmetries affect other branches of the Armed Forces.


“Today’s military aviators will become tomorrow’s best-trained commercial pilots,” said Sen. Coons. “Our current officers in uniform will become our policy experts, our CEOs and often our political leaders. The FLIGHT Act is just one of many steps we must take to ensure that those who lead our country also fully represent it..... MORE


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