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Coons’ bill to train pilots, support ROTC students passes Senate

Delaware News Desk

The U.S. Senate voted July 23 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains text from the Fostering Leadership and Inclusion by Growing HBCU Training, or FLIGHT Act of 2020. 

The House of Representatives passed similar language in its own Defense Authorization earlier in the week. Led by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, and Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, and Reps. Anthony Brown, D-Maryland, and Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware, the FLIGHT Act will provide new resources for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students at historically black colleges and universities and minority institutions, with special emphasis on support for flight training.

“I am proud and encouraged to see the FLIGHT Act on its way to becoming law,” said Coons. “Now more than ever, we are reminded how vital it is that our leaders, our guardians, and our role models reflect the diversity of America itself. Our service members come from all walks of life, but people of color remain underrepresented at the military’s highest levels. Today’s military aviators will become tomorrow’s best-trained commercial pilots. Our current officers in uniform will become our policy experts, our CEOs, and often our political leaders. The FLIGHT Act is just one of many steps we must take to ensure that those who lead our country also fully represent it. I thank and congratulate my colleagues on this victory, and I look forward to working with them to put FLIGHT into action in Delaware and across the country.”

People of color are underrepresented in American military leadership — particularly at higher ranks and in high-investment, training-intensive specialties like aviation, according to a press release from Coons’ office. As a whole, the Air Force is almost 20% African American, but 1.7% of Air Force pilots, and less than 3% of civilian pilots, are Black. Similar asymmetries affect other branches of the Armed Forces.

Aspiring military aviators can significantly improve their career prospects with undergraduate pilot training, but ROTC scholarships do not cover flight training costs. This makes it more difficult for low-income students to become pilots.

The FLIGHT Act establishes two pilot programs, with the goals of

— Lowering the barriers to ROTC participation for students at HBCUs and minority institutions. Many ROTC students at HBCUs must commute to host institutions for classes — often over long distances. This bill would provide funding and resources to mitigate that inconvenience, in part by encouraging partnerships between the institutions and nearby military bases.

— Supplementing flight training costs for ROTC members enrolled at HBCUs. While these funds can be used at commercial flight schools, priority is given to students who would also receive their flight training at HBCUs.