DOVER, Del. – On Friday, August 28, the Delaware Congressional Delegation and Delaware State University leadership celebrated the passage of legislation to improve the diversity of civilian pilots and military leadership by increasing opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs.

Led by Sen. Chris Coons, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, and cosponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (all D-Del.), the
 FLIGHT Act, which passed with the NDAA of 2021, calls for new resources for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students at HBCUs and minority institutions, with special emphasis on flight training support.

The goal of the FLIGHT Act is simple – it’s about leveraging the resources we already have in Delaware and putting them to better use,”
 said Rep. Blunt Rochester. “It’s about bringing new, exciting, and diverse talent to the ranks of our military, and opening doors for students at HBCU’s like Delaware State University that haven’t traditionally been open. I want to thank my partners on this bill, Senator Coons, Senator Carper, and Congressman Anthony Brown. I also want to thank Dr. Tony Allen, and the entire leadership team at Delaware State University for their tireless efforts in helping us pass the FLIGHT Act.”

“Now more than ever, we are reminded of how vital it is that our leaders, our guardians, and our role models reflect the diversity of America itself,”
 said Senator Coons. “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 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.”

“The formation of a more perfect union is an ideal that we must constantly strive to meet,”
 said Senator Carper. “As we as a nation continue to take important steps in promoting equality, we cannot overstate the importance of removing the barriers to serving in a leadership role in our military. As a former ROTC student who went on to serve as a naval flight officer, I understand the positive impacts that ROTC and aviation training, in particular, have on our nation. Today, the students at Delaware State University and at HBCUs across our country have a similar opportunity, and, with the FLIGHT Act, they’ll have a greater chance to succeed and serve in leadership roles in the military and in their civilian careers, as well. I want to thank Senator Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester for leading the charge and introducing this bill, and I look forward to continue working to make sure that students who are eager to take flight and serve their nation will reap the benefits.”

Dr. Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University, praised the Congressional Delegation for their faithful support of the University, especially as evidenced by their work on the Flight Act.

“We are already committed to doubling the size of our Aviation Program in the next five years,”
 Dr. Allen said. “We knew that we could do that with an increased aircraft fleet, and now we are certain we can exceed that with the Flight Act.”

People of color are underrepresented in American military leadership-particularly at higher ranks and in high-investment, training-intensive specialties like aviation. As a whole, the Air Force is almost 20% African-American. But that diversity is deceptive: less than 2% 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 shortfall 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. A majority of ROTC students at HBCUs must commute to host institutions for classes – often over long distances. This bill allows funding and resources to mitigate that problem, 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.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 is expected to become law before the end of the fiscal year, September 30.