Delaware State trains black pilots, aviation professionals

School boasts low-cost, high quality aviation education

October 1, 2013

Delaware State University, a historically black college and university based in Dover, has officially been training aviation professionals in its flight program since 1987. The university, which traces its aviation training roots back to the Tuskegee Airman in World War II, is the only of the historically black college and university aviation programs that owns and operates its own aircraft fleet.

Only about 2 percent of professional pilots in the United States are African-American, said Capt. Stephen Speed, the school’s aviation program director. “The percentage of minorities in other aviation professions is also very low, particularly in management positions,” he said. “Although we have students of various races in our program, our percentage of African-American students is significantly higher than you will find in almost every other aviation program.”

The founder of the program, Dan Coons, was inspired by the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, said Speed.  “He also recognized that there were (and still are) very few African-American professional pilots and decided, that as an HBCU, DSU could honor the Tuskegee Airmen and provide opportunities for African-Americans and other minorities to enter the aviation industry, especially as pilots.”

The university has 10 aircraft in its all-Piper fleet. “We use [six] Warriors as our primary trainer. We use [two] Arrows for complex aircraft training. We use a Seneca for multiengine training and a Tomahawk for spin training,” said Speed.

The aviation program currently has 84 matriculating students and two students just taking flight training courses, said Speed. “We have 38 aviation management students and 46 professional pilot students.”

When recruiting for new students, Speed tells them that the DSU aviation program can provide them with all of the education, training, and pilot certifications they will need to have successful aviation careers for a lot less than most other college and university aviation programs.  “We have a relatively small program and our alumni like to help the students following them. Our professors and instructors get to know each student and work with them to help them succeed,” he said. “For instance, as the program director, I know every student in our program. Also, since we have a relatively small program, the students get to know each other. We have a rigorous program that requires students to earn pilot certificates that most programs don’t require. As a result, our graduates get hired.”

Current flight training lab fees vary between $3,255 and $9,486 for each fixed-wing certification and $10,458 and $20,320 for each helicopter certification and are subject to revision, said Speed. Charges incurred for FAA flight physicals, knowledge exams, and certification flight tests with FAA flight examiners are the responsibility of the student seeking certification, he added.

The university generally works very hard to keep students’ costs as low as possible, said Speed. “While many colleges and universities have increased tuition and other fees regularly, DSU has not,” he said. “In addition, we know how expensive flight training is, so we try to offer our flight training at cost.”

DSU’s program provides students with a quality education and experience in preparation for careers in the aviation industry, said Speed. Students can earn a Bachelor of Science degree with concentrations in aviation management or professional pilot.

The aviation program works with airlines and professional organizations on behalf of its students. “We work with the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), the Delaware and Philadelphia Area Chapters of the Tuskegee Airmen, United Airlines, DuPont Corporate Aviation, the Delaware River & Bay Authority, which operates six airports, and the Delaware Department of Transportation,” said Speed. “We just signed an agreement with Piedmont Airlines. We are also working on a gateway agreement with JetBlue and had a representative from Southwest Airlines visit the campus to meet with the students [recently].”

Aviation management graduates will be qualified for advanced training to fill the future vacancies in air traffic control, the FAA, airline companies, and the airport administration career fields, said Speed.

“Professional pilot graduates will complete their FAA requirements for private pilot, instrument, commercial, multiengine and certified flight instructor ratings while earning their bachelor's degree,” he said. Graduates of our FAA-approved Part 141 aviation program get hired. “The Delaware State flight training program will open the door to commercial and/or military aviation careers for those with the ability and tenacity to meet the rigorous academic and physical skills demanded of them.”

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.