WASHINGTON – The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the Senate today includes The Fostering Leadership and Inclusion by Growing HBCU Training (FLIGHT) Act of 2020, legislation led by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and U.S. Representatives Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), and Greg Murphy, M.D. (R-N.C.). The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.). The FLIGHT Act will provide new resources for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and minority institutions, with special emphasis on support for flight training. The bill now heads to the president's desk for signature.

“I am proud that the NDAA includes the bipartisan FLIGHT Act, which will help ensure our leaders and role models in Delaware and across the country reflect the diversity of America itself,” said Senator Chris Coons. “Our service members come from all walks of life, but people of color remain underrepresented at the military’s highest levels. Our current officers in uniform will become our policy experts, our CEOs, and often our political leaders, and the FLIGHT Act is just one of many steps we must take to ensure that those who lead our country also fully represent it.” 

“A diverse military makes this country stronger. Through new partnerships with military installations and actively encouraging participation in ROTC and flight training, we’ll tap into the exceptional talent at HBCUs and minority institutions,” said House Armed Services Committee Vice Chair Anthony Brown. “Minority groups are severely underrepresented in our officer corps, and even more so among military pilots and other critical units. The FLIGHT Act is an important step forward for diversity and inclusion in our armed services and I look forward to seeing the next generation of pilots earn their wings.”

“I am thrilled that today’s passage of the NDAA includes the FLIGHT Act. I’ve long talked about the need to ensure that America’s promise and opportunity is available to all of its citizens, and with the passage of the FLIGHT Act, we’ve taken an important step in that direction,” said Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester. “This legislation not only provides students at our nation’s HBCUs like Delaware State with a unique opportunity to learn and grow, but also provides our nation’s military with access to new and exciting talent that can help advance our national interests and enhance our security. I’m grateful to all of our partners in this effort, including my dear friends, Senator Coons & Representative Anthony Brown, and look forward to seeing the new heights our students can reach because of the FLIGHT Act.”

“This is an outstanding opportunity to boost diversity in our military,” said Senator Thom Tillis. “This legislation will allow HBCUs, like Elizabeth City State University, to invest additional resources for ROTC programs and increase training opportunities for students. I’m proud to work across the aisle to support this bipartisan legislation that will provide more access to pilot training and help advance the promising military careers of young men and women who are serving our nation.”

“The FLIGHT Act's inclusion in the FY2021 NDAA is a major victory. Lowering barriers to entry into aviation for minority students is a win-win for our state and our nation. I’m especially excited about the implications for Elizabeth City State University in my district. ECSU is the only 4-year institution in North Carolina to offer a flight program and one of the few HBCUs in the country to do so. They do a tremendous job in their mission to help more minority students achieve their dreams of becoming pilots. I am very pleased this year's NDAA will aid them in that mission,” said Representative Greg Murphy.

“America’s military is more resilient now because of the recent commitments we’ve made to improve readiness, while diversifying our ranks,” said Senator Tim Scott. “HBCUs are filled with strong leaders ready to serve our nation in uniform and build upon the strength of our diverse armed services.”

“Like many others who’ve had the privilege of leading men and women in our armed forces, I know our people are our military’s greatest assets and diversity is a source of enduring strength. That’s why I’m proud to see the FLIGHT Act included in this year’s NDAA. With the FLIGHT ACT, we are breaking down barriers and building a diverse leadership corps by investing in the training of ROTC students at Delaware State University and other HBCUs across the country,” said Senator Tom Carper. “As a ROTC student who went on to proudly serve as a naval flight officer, I know the skills these students will learn as part of their aviation and ROTC training will not only contribute to our national security, they will also be an invaluable foundation for success in their military and civilian careers as well.  I thank Senator Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester for their work on this bill and I look forward to making sure that students who are eager to take flight and serve their nation will reap the benefits.” 

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: only 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.