Seventy-two students took to the skies with pilot mentors and delved into the intricacies of aircraft engines this month alongside master mechanics at the ACE and Solo Flight academies, co-sponsored by Delta and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals.
The programs resumed after a two-year pause due to the COVD-19 pandemic and are part of Delta’s ongoing efforts to widen its talent pipeline through more inclusive hiring protocols.
Students ages 13-18 participate in the organization’s ACE Academies, Solo Flight Academy and Dream Flight, all aimed at building interest in STEM and aviation education. During the programs, students explore career possibilities in aviation and engage in hands-on learning in the cockpit and through flight simulators. Over a 21-year partnership, Delta and OBAP have given more than 4,000 youth immersive learning opportunities to better understand pathways to aviation careers.
“This program was eye-opening. There are so many career paths that I didn’t know existed,” said ACE Academy student Barrion B. “After ACE Academy, I feel even more motivated to achieve my goal of someday becoming a Delta pilot.”
The Dream Flight – a special charter flight that transports students to an aviation-themed destination – was piloted by Delta First Officer Anya Kearns, who graduated from the ACE and Solo Flight academies as a teenage student. The programs “introduced me to people who looked like me and had the same background as me were successful in this field. It gave me the confidence to say, ‘You know what, I can do this too.’”
That inspiration led Anya to an aviation career at Delta that begin in 2020. Now she marvels at the “full-circle” moment that put her in the captain’s seat for the first time on this year’s Dream Flight, the culminating event of both programs.
“This moment is surreal. To look at these young faces and imagine myself in their shoes, I hope to leave these students feeling encouraged and inspired, knowing their dreams are attainable,” Anya said from the flight deck during the flight from Atlanta to Duluth, Minnesota. There, students toured the Duluth Air National Guard Base, met U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilots, and enjoyed a Thunderbird airshow featuring F-35 fighter jets.
Delta First Officer Kyle Greene also graduated from the program and today serves as director of the ACE and Solo Flight academies, helping to inspire the next generation of aviation professionals as he was inspired as a student.
“Delta’s longstanding relationship with OBAP, Ace, Solo and our Propel Collegiate Pilot Career Path Program is Delta’s investment in the education of future aviators,” Greene said. “These programs give future aviators the opportunity to explore the industry and show them their goals are attainable.”
Through Propel, Delta is the only airline offering students in accredited pilot programs a customized career path to a pilot role. Launched in 2018 to supplement pilot hiring needs, Propel offers an accelerated path to the flight deck for selected students. Hampton University became the 13th school in the program, and the first historically Black college or university in February. Other schools include Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Auburn University, Kent State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campuses in Prescott, Arizona, and Pensacola, Florida.
“Access, exposure and mentorship are vital to cultivating students’ passion for aviation,” said Keyra Lynn Johnson, Delta’s Vice President and Chief of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. “A diverse workforce starts with a diverse pipeline, and Delta is committed to widening the funnel and decreasing barriers to find the talented and qualified people to join us.”