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Sky’s Limit

Four aviation specialists keep pace with industry changes—at incredible heights By Sean Drakes

The air in The aviaTion indusTry rarely has a calm momenT. shorTly afTer 9/11, roughly 130,000 jobs were lost as airlines responded to reduced demand. Then the wars in afghanistan and iraq fueled spikes in oil prices and airfares. Today, airlines directly employ 550,000, the Air Transport Association reports. As the economy struggles to rebound, aircraft mechanics, pilots, and air traffic controllers are concerned about staffing shortfalls and their stake in the $120 billion commercial airline industry. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Air Traffic Controllers Association have publicized differing accounts of staffing at the nation’s busiest airports. According to NATCA, retirement of air traffic controllers is outpacing recruitment. “We’re at a low we haven’t seen in 16 years,” offers union spokesman Doug Church. But according to its Website, www.faa.gov, the faa plans to hire 1,914 controllers in 2009. “In supervisory positions training the next group of traffic controllers, we steadily recruit,” states FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 10% growth through 2016. Overall, projections are similar for equipment mechanics and service technicians. Job growth for airline pilots and flight engineers through 2016 is projected at 13%. “Every pilot in the air needs a support team on the ground,” offers Jill Meridith, associate director of undergraduate admissions at embry-riddle aeronautical university (www.erau.edu). among Embry’s 33 degree programs, the most popular are aeronautical science, aerospace engineering, and air traffic management—which has steady double-digit enrollment growth. Certification in aviation environmental science, aerospace studies, or aviation management satisfies entry requirements to numerous aviation disciplines. The faa collegiate Training initiative, military service, and testing through the Office of Personnel Management (www.usajobsopm.gov) are all viable means to prepare for a career in aviation. The airports council international (www.aci-na.org) and american association of Airport Executives (www.aaae.org) are information portals that offer career links. The industry offers hundreds of career possibilities including accident investigator, cabin designer, airport art exhibit curator, and first-class executive chef. Careers in aviation reach above and beyond passenger-contact positions in airports; the sky is truly the limit as these four professionals prove.


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Renee Chatman E

Air Traffic Controller Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center • Hampton, GA

mergencies are rare and can stem from a cracked windshield, blown tire, engine failure, or severely sick passenger, according to 20-year veteran Renee Chatman, who was in air traffic control training when she first handled an adrenaline-racing emergency, eventually ushering in a safe landing for a Learjet pilot who pushed his aircraft beyond an altitude that would ensure enough oxygen in the plane. “People often ask if it’s a stressful job. My answer is yes, it can be if you are not prepared,” Chatman confides. Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chatman discovered air traffic control in the Navy. She completed four months of screening at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, then two and a half years of on-the-job training at Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hampton, Georgia—her current base. Aside from handling emergencies, air traffic controllers facilitate the safe and orderly flow of aircrafts through airspace and must

read weather symbols, describe weather on a radar display, and have a general knowledge of thunderstorms. “You also learn the characteristics of airplanes,” adds Chatman, who is 46. Nationally, there are 21 air traffic control centers like Chatman’s. The airspace she manages includes Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama. Controllers earn $30,000 to $150,000, depending on the region. Chatman is a member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (www.natca.org) and National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees (www.nbcfae.org). When she entered the field, Chatman was the fifth black woman at her center. Overall, there were roughly 25 black men out of 450 controllers, she recalls. Eighteen years later, there are about 50 black controllers. “Things have gotten better because of organizations like NBCFAE, but the numbers aren’t where we would like them to be.”




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David L. Campbell

Senior Vice President, Technical Operations & Chief Operating Officer American Eagle • Dallas/Fort Worth


ave, this is your crew,” is how a manager introduced David L. Campbell to his first supervisory position six months after Campbell joined the airline. “Hope you’ll be happy together.” Campbell recalls a big mechanic sitting in the back of the room challenging him with, “What qualifies you to be my supervisor?” Today, after 19 years Campbell, 48, manages about 1,400 mechanics and engineers and has 2,398 pilots on his roster. He also oversees mechanical and technical operations at American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, with an operations budget of $1 billion for aircraft maintenance and serves as the chief operations officer. Originally from Sardis, Mississippi, Campbell wasn’t allowed to fly while in the Air Force because he wore corrective lenses. But by the end of his tour of duty he’d earned FAA certification, a bachelor’s of science degree in business management, and practical experience repairing airplanes. Engineering is one of the important aspects of the job and plays a critical role in our daily operations.” Engineers in aviation must have a college degree and technical training. Campbell is enthusiastic about the commercial airline industry because “it is challenging, and engaging.” But success at this level, for Campbell, comes back to the people factor. “Simply listening to team members, and empowering them to do their jobs.”


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Thella F. Bowens T

President & CEO San Diego County Regional Airport Authority • San Diego

hella Bowens oversees 380 employees supporting 18 airlines, 600 flights, and 50,000 passengers each day, but these numbers don’t reveal the level of intensity for day-to-day operations at San Diego International Airport and Airport Authority. Bowens, 59, manages an operating budget of $145 million and a $370 million capital budget, implements airport policies, and is hands-on in dealing with community and environmental concerns. She is regularly engaged with airline executives, legal consultants, development committees, the Chamber of Commerce, her staff, and a slew of other stakeholders. “The airport, no matter who it’s operated by, is not an island unto itself. It is heavily integrated into the community,” she says. “It is an asset that creates traffic, noise, and emissions.” Such issues involve other agencies in the community, so aside from operational and technical acumen, good political instincts are critical.


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“You can take many roads to get where I am,” offers Bowens, who earned a bachelor’s of arts degree in political science from Barnard College. “There are people in this business who have business, law, and engineering backgrounds.” The salary generally ranges from $150,000 to more than $300,000, and is influenced by the size of the airport, the complexity of the airport system, and the region’s cost of living. There are about nine other African Americans who manage a U.S. airport. African Americans who are in this business are probably the first or second generation; it takes time to develop the numbers,” says Bowens, who’s worked 21 years in aviation. “It is a very dynamic and fascinating business,” she adds. “When people work at airports they tend to get jet fuel in their veins—it just becomes part of your DNA.”


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Kimberly McCommon O

ut of approximately 150,000 pilots, Kimberly McCommon can literally name the black female commercial airline captains in the industry. “There are only about 50 of us,” she says. McCommon never thought she’d be part of such an exclusive group. With a degree in business from Florida A&M, she intended to become an athletic director but had difficulty finding a post. She settled for a gate agent position with United Airlines but soon joined the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (www.obap.org) because of her appreciation for the industry. In 1997 she joined FedEx as a customer service representative and then became a flight attendant for Northwest. But her activity in OBAP solidified her ambition to fly. She

Captain ExpressJet Airlines Chicago

enrolled in Western Michigan University’s 16-month program for minority students called the International Pilot Training Center Program, and eventually became a first officer flying for a private jet company, only to be later laid off and forced to accept a desk job. “In this business, you make sacrifices,” McCommon remarks on her juggling of her work schedule to find time to increase her flight times. By qualifying for a training scholarship, she began working with a regional airline five years ago and was upgraded to captain in 2007. “Stress is high, but you can’t take your problems with you into the cockpit. You have to be 100%; if you’re not you’re dangerous to yourself and others.” BE




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Profile for S BlueMango

sky's the limit  

Careers feature for Black Enterprise by Sean Drakes

sky's the limit  

Careers feature for Black Enterprise by Sean Drakes