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NGPA executive director notes gains, goals

If only one person had been helped, it all would have been worthwhile. But much more than that has been accomplished over the 25-year life of the National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA), said its executive director.

David Pettet, the NGPA's executive director since last fall, articulated that philosophy of the organization’s founders in an AOPA interview on the occasion of the NGPA’s milestone anniversary and several key events on its 2015 schedule.

At the time of the interview, Pettet, who is a pilot for a major U.S. airline, was preparing for the NGPA’s largest-ever career event, to take place on Jan. 25 during the organization’s annual Winter Warm-up in Palm Springs, California. Attendance was expected to be double the 2014 turnout. Twenty-one airlines were signed up to offer networking and interview opportunities to those attending the career event; only 19 had been expected but two more registered as the event date neared. 

Momentum is also building in the nonprofit group’s efforts to support the aviation education of members, who divide about evenly between professional pilots and general aviation pilots. In 2015, scholarship awards distributed from the NGPA Education Fund will reach a total of $250,000 since the program began in 1999, Pettet said.

"From an aviation academic standpoint we’ve come a long way," he said, adding that Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a corporate sponsor of NGPA, also was to sponsor a Jan. 24 lunch at one of the activities in Palm Springs.

Then contrast the present-day climate of "overwhelming support" from the aviation industry with the choices and risks gay and lesbian members of the aviation family faced in the era when the NGPA was founded, he said—particularly for employees of the military and airlines. Protection from discrimination was still years away, and would arrive, in 1994, with the official Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that remained in place until 2011. 

The threats to careers and well-being of those early days have been replaced, in 2015, with the record industry event attendance and the NGPA turning more attention to acquiring sponsorships and participation in activities with institutions of aviation education.

"What an accomplishment for the organization," he said.

Pettet stressed that there is more work ahead for NGPA. The leadership is steering the organization in the direction of career development, which means creating mentoring relationships with NGPA student members, and working to create "a safe educational environment for an LGBT aviator."

In that vein, Pettet was looking forward to participating in a market-development session Jan. 28 at the Sixth Annual International Flight Schools Operators Conference in San Diego, California, that would give NGPA an opportunity to present some first-hand career perspectives to participants from about 150 aviation schools and colleges.

Tragedy, and growth

Last fall Pettet was preparing to take over the NGPA’s executive director’s position from Steven Moore, but was forced to take over the reins early when Moore, 35, an AOPA member and airline transport pilot, perished in a crash after takeoff in a Mooney M20E from Colorado’s Boulder Municipal Airport on Oct. 27. 

Honoring Moore’s memory by pursuing his NGPA initiatives became a top priority for Pettet, especially—as Pettet wrote in a tribute to his predecessor—the effort to "make the NGPA a better, bigger voice than ever before" among industry members, labor organizations representing pilots, and in aviation education. 

Moore "changed the organization" by not being afraid to ask tough questions and by being a strong advocate, Pettet said. Following up on that work where barriers still exist remains "a battle in his honor."

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Aviation Organizations, People, Aviation Industry

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