A Look at the Representation of People of Color in Aviation

When Casey Grant started flying with Delta Airlines in 1970, she became one of the very first African American flight attendants to work for a major carrier. Thirty-five years later, she hung up her wings and wrote her first book titled “Stars in The Sky,” an account of the wonders and dangers of being a flight attendant of color.

Grant and her colleagues paved the way for people of color to become frontline employees in aviation while battling racism from co-workers and passengers alike. They were sometimes banned from the cockpit by pilots, forbidden to work first class, and even denied hotel rooms during layovers because of their race.

“When I first started writing my book,” Grant said, “I wanted people to understand the hardships of being a stewardess, the loneliness of it, the psychological impact it had on us that people just didn’t understand the things that we did.”

International Black Aviation Professionals Day

Grant’s passion for sharing African American aviation stories led her to create International Black Aviation Professionals Day or IBAD. Feb. 16, 2022, was the first observance of IBAD, honoring prominent Black aviators like Bessie Coleman, Cornelius Coffey, Janet Bragg, John C. Robinson, and Willa Mae Brown. Two days later, the Georgia Congressional Delegation introduced a resolution to observe IBAD annually on February 16, in the middle of Black History Month.

“The resolution has been presented to [Congress] and it’s got great support and a lot of signatures,” Grant said, adding that she hopes the resolution will be passed during the current session.

Grant has received support from Sisters of the Sky, a woman-led organization dedicated to removing barriers for women of color who want to become pilots or work in other aspects of aviation.

Promoting Racial Diversity in Aviation

According to a recent Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University study, the aviation industry needs to promote racial diversity to ensure that its workforce is big enough to handle future demand. The study’s findings showed a very low percentage of Black employees across the occupations of Aircraft Pilot/Flight Engineer, Air Traffic Controller/Airfield Operations Specialist, Aerospace Engineer, Avionics technician and Aviation Mechanic/Service Technician, ranging from 1.6% to 13.1%. The multiple-year study found that the disparity should be addressed along three dimensions:

  1. Developing these individuals’ interest in aviation careers
  2. Providing opportunities to develop basic academic competencies
  3. Addressing any remaining barriers impeding access, either formally or informally, by these groups to pursue aviation careers

The Role ERGs Play in Increasing Representation

Lawanda Scott, chair of the Black Excellence Network employee resource group (BXN) at Raytheon Technologies (No. 41 on DiversityInc’s 2022 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), has rolled out a robust calendar of events for Black History Month, including a panel discussion with some of the company’s top Black leaders.

Scott says that groups like BXN are a “tool to increase representation within our industry, while developing and strengthening the pipeline of future leaders to come.” BXN’s pipeline goes straight back to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), where they reach out to both recent graduates and seasoned professionals searching for job opportunities.

Grant is encouraged by the enthusiasm she sees for Black aviation history.

“I want children in all the school systems to know that February the 16th is designated for you to pick one or several Black pioneers in aviation. Study them, learn about them, become encouraged by them, know their struggle, and never give up.”

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