Career Opportunities for African Americans in Aviation Jobs vs Market Potential and Growth Term Paper

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Flying the friendly skies -- but friendly to whom? The outlook of the airline industry regarding African-American job prospects and the overall future of the airline industry

Fly the friendly skies," the famous and infamous Delta Airlines advertisement used to proclaim to viewers everywhere. But friendly to whom, African-American job seekers and consumers could have demanded of the smiling Delta personnel depicted in the ads when they first ran in the 1970s and 1980s. The customers and the airline personnel alike in the advertisements were largely white, middle-class, and homogeneous in their appearances and depicted lifestyles. If women appeared in these ads in a professional capacity, they appeared as smiling and attractive stewardesses. This was, sadly reflective of the real-life airline industry in general at the time.

Also, in this "friendly" Delta advertisement, as in advertisements for most of the other carriers, African-Americans had no presence at all, even as customers. Today, stewardesses have become flight attendants in the parlance of the industry. These service positions are served by individuals of both genders, and by individuals of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Airplanes are tourism-driven industry, and thus modification in advertising and in the language used to describe employees to customers should not be minimized in its impact as mere, insignificant gestures political correctness. In advertising, image is all.

But ultimately, a job seeker must look at the dollar figures -- what about the more highly paid occupations in the airline industry, what key executive management positions are served by African-American people of note?

Minorities and women have not historically been placed in positions of the administration and finance of the airlines industry, much less executive level positions. They also have been underrepresented in highly paid, upper level positions in operations, facilities management, transportation and security, and in any of the key positions of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The ignoring of the airline industry, of minorities, has been called a long-standing blindness, and is particularly extraordinary, given the young nature of this technologically driven industry, in contrast to old, traditional closed industries such as banking. Even experienced African-Americans have been shut out of the airline industry. When the Second World war ended in 1945, none of the 992 Tuskegee Airmen whom valiantly risked their lives for the good of their country, were able to get a job in commercial aviation. Less than 1% of the approximately 71,000 pilots nationwide are African-Americans. (Hornblower, 1994)

It has been a struggle all the way," said Perry Jones, a former Air Force flyer and Delta captain who heads the Organization of Black Airline Pilots. "We had more black pilots in 1942 than we do today," because of the war. When America needed Black piolts to risk their lives for the nation, Blacks responded and America gladly accepted their willing sacrifices. But today, although few jobs offer as much glamour as an airline pilot's or pay so well -- up to $180,000 a year at a major airline, few jobs remain so overwhelmingly dominated by white males -- 97%. (Hornblower, 1994) Only in a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court Case did Marlin Greene succeed in smashing the "Color Barrier" by becoming the first black hired by a major U.S. Passenger Airline, the then-dominant Continental Airlines. (OBAP website, 2004)

More than ten years after the experience of the Tuskegee pilots of the military, Ben Thomas, a young black pilot with Eastern Airlines evaluated the state of the U.S. airline industry. The number of black pilots employed in 1976 was still "appallingly small." Ben "was not alone in recognizing this state of affairs, but his response to the situation was special." Ben Thomas "took it upon himself to spearhead an effort to form a permanent body to address this issue." His idea was to establish a representative group dedicated to advancing and enhancing the participation of Blacks and other minorities in the aviation industry, especially as pilots. "On September 17th and 18th of 1976, thirty-seven of the industry's approximately 80 black pilots convened at the O'Hare Hilton Hotel in Chicago. As a result of that meeting, The Organization of Black Airline Pilots (OBAP) was born." (OBAP website, 2004)

This organization remains committed to increasing the representation of Blacks in all spheres of the aviation industry, federal as well as commercial, and in management as well as actual piloting positions. Even on local and state levels, the organization encourages Blacks to become interested in aviation from a young age through community outreach organizations that educate Blacks about the experience of being a pilot. But although today, in the airline industry as a whole, the advertising images of the airline industry of Blacks has changed and diversified to draw in more Black customers' dollars of the companies that have responded to the OBAP's calls to open up more pilot and executive job positions to Blacks, the only company to do so initially was that of UPS, not a carrier. "In 1988, United Parcel Service launched a brand new freight airline. From the outset they pledged to aggressively seek to set new standards in the industry relating to minority pilot representation. Today over 3.5% of their pilots are African-American. When Patrice Clarke-Washington upgraded to Captain, UPS became the only major operator to have a black female captain." (OBAP website, 2004)

In the airline industry, white males still largely hold all of the major executive positions. Thus, what are the current job opportunities for African-Americans and other minority (and socially disadvantaged and underrepresented groups such as women), in the airline industry of the future? The organizations have improved their media images of Blacks, a positive first step. Increasing outreach and education programs with groups such as the Organization of Black Pilots would be another positive step. But given the current state of the industry, what is the job outlook at an executive level for all potential job seekers, particularly the minority job seekers? Approaching 2003, two major carriers were "already down, though not out. Both USAir and United Airlines continued to fly, but both had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection." (Zimmer, 2002)

United Airlines, sadly, had been one of the most influential in hiring more minorities to prominent positions. In 1986, United Airlines had fewer than 35 black pilots; in 2002 they employed over 260, including 8 African-American females. (Zimmer, 2002) Whether this exponential rate of hiring will continue, given the airline's financial setbacks, remains dubious. Other major carriers, such as American Airlines, were approaching the New Year with plans not to hire more workers, minority or otherwise, but "to implement widespread cost-cutting measures, including seeking concessions from unions." (Zimmer, 2002)

Fears of terrorism and security risks have in fact caused the industry to pursue an even more conservative image, rather than a more ethnically expansive one, to allay fears. Although professional and related occupations and service occupations were "expected to add the most new jobs to the economy over the projections decade," minorities remained more likely to be laid off, because they were underrepresented in these capacities in the airline industry. (Occupation outlook quaterly, 2003) U.S. airlines overall were forced to slash 70,000 additional jobs in 2003 and faced collective annual losses of over ten billion dollars (Airline Industry outlook, 2003)

Rising fuel prices and the war in Iraq have meant that individuals are traveling less, and businesses are sending their employees abroad less and less. "Though aviation is traditionally a cyclical industry, the lackluster U.S. economy, coupled with the latest bankruptcies, is creating a new way of doing business - one aimed at low-cost carrier business models. 'Everyone is going to be reacting to the market, everyone is revising their strategy,'" said one industry insider. She "expects passenger continue declining as discount carriers move to the forefront of travel choices and major airlines slash fares…[continue]

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