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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 the industry total at the time, to convene at O-Hare Hilton Hotel in Chicago on September 17th and 18th.
The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), then called The Organization of Black Airline Pilots, was formed as a result of that collaborative meeting with a focus of preparing youth and young adults to realize successful careers in aviation.
The organization quickly became a prominent advocate and thought-leader in improving conditions industry-wide. In 1986, OBAP's General Counsel and Eastern First Officer Eddie Hadden testified before a U.S. Congressional hearing on airline industry hiring practices. As a result, Congress began to strengthen accountability measures to monitor the performance of minority recruiting. In 1994 OBAP member and Pan Am Pilot Ed Moon offered additional testimony before a similar session. The hearing brought increased awareness discrimination within the airlines, encouraging swift changes to industry standards in direct partnership with minority organizations like OBAP. Additionally, the testimonies helped to increase available pilot positions and opportunities for Blacks and elevated the civil rights issue to a high priority for government officials nationwide.
Beginning in 1992, in an effort to augment the dwindling military supply of pilots, then OBAP President, Captain M. Perry Jones encouraged the U.S. Congress to appoint a panel and fund a 2-year study by the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the nation's supply, demand, and production capacity for airline pilots beyond the year 2000. As a result of the study, the U.S. Armed Forces became obligated to increase minority participation in the military, allotting positions designated solely for minority pilots.
OBAP continues to recognize and strengthen opportunities for collaboration with organizations including the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. (TAI) and Black Wings in Aviation (NAI) who have served as passionate advocates for African Americans in aviation for more than 70 years.
In 1982 the organizations collaborated to provide invaluable historical accounts of African Americans in aviation for the "Black Wings" exhibit presented by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The exhibition is being toured nationally until early 2016.
OBAP took the opportunity to convene joint national conventions with TAI and NAI in the 1990s. During this time, OBAP served a leading role in establishing FAA-endorsed Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academies to introduce, educate and guide diverse students towards careers in aviation. In 1992, OBAP supported two ACE Academies reaching 41 students. In 1994, we co-sponsored 17 Academies and reached more than 400 students. Today, OBAP's ACE Academies provide exposure to the history of aviation, fundamentals of aerodynamics, air traffic control procedures, aerospace technologies and a host of aviation careers to more than 1,100 students in 30 cities nationwide.
In 2005, OBAP established four Centers of Excellence in Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta and Houston to provide centralized community-based resources that would ensure youth engagement from childhood through to established aviation careers. In Houston, under the leadership of Xavier Samuels, a United Airlines first officer pilot, youth are first introduced to aviation through Aerospace Professionals in Schools (APIS) initiatives through longstanding relationships with the Houston Independent School District, Texas Association of Partners in Education (TAPE) and the City of Houston. Once in middle school, youth have the opportunity to participate in Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academies held each summer in partnership with Army ROTC among others. Additionally in Houston, OBAP continues a 12-year partnership with Sterling High School and Texas Southern University to guide young-adults throughout their academic path. From 2006 to present, with the support of strategic partners like the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation, and the Federal Aviation Administration, the Houston Center of Excellence alone has reached more than 50,000 youth.
We invite you to join us!