At Florida Memorial University, a small historically Black university in Miami Gardens,Tremaine Johnson is training to become one of the country’s few Black pilots, reports NBCBLK. Less than 2 percent of commercial airline pilots are Black, according to one report, making Johnson’s decision to become a pilot – rather an air traffic controller – notable. His choice also comes at a crucial time, as airlines around the country experience a pilot shortage due to cutbacks during the pandemic.
At 20 years old, Johnson still remembers the exact moment that inspired his career decision – it was when he flew in a plane for the first time last year.
“I could feel us going up and up,” he recalled. “I felt an adrenaline rush.”
Suddenly the small plane at Florida Memorial he’d walked by as a student, took on new meaning. Florida Memorial is one of a few HBCUs with an aviation program. A Florida Memorial alum, Capt. Barrington Irving, once held the record as the youngest person at 23 to fly the 24,000 mile trip around the world.
William McCormick, chairman of Florida Memorial, is confident there are other Irvings on campus, but the biggest problem is that flight school is expensive. The college owns a small plane, but purchasing flight time can be prohibitive. A flight school program for an experienced student can cost $71,000. With no experience the cost can run almost $92,000.
“We want to be a pipeline for Black pilots…” McCormick said.
Community support is one of the reasons Florida Memorial students will have a fighting chance. Local inventor Freddie Figgers said he believed in the school’s plan and teamed up with Black car dealership magnate Vince Young to donate $50,000 to the aviation program.
“When I learned how outstanding the aviation program is at Florida Memorial, we at the Figgers Foundation felt the need to help,” said Figgers, the owner of the only Black-owned telecommunications company in America. “I understand the road to becoming a pilot is long and hard and carries a large price tag, and we as a community have to do our part to change the numbers and give our kids a chance to be great.”