Bill Norwood (left) and Tony Marshall (right)
By Cynthia Frazier
RIALTO, CA- Tony Marshall is on a mission to expose minority youth to opportunities available in the aviation industry, and there is no shortage of opportunities for the foreseeable future. According to a Boeing forecast, worldwide, there is a need for more than half a million new commercial airline pilots over the next couple of decades. In the U.S. the need is more than 95,000 new commercial pilots. Plus, airline pilots can command a salary between $100,000 and $200,000.
Looking back a few decades, the number of African American commercial pilots across all airlines was too small to count. In fact, it wasn’t until a landmark Supreme Court Case in 1963 that the color barrier was smashed and Marion Green became the first black pilot hired by a major U.S. Passenger Airline (Continental). A few years later, Marshall experienced the lack of opportunity for black pilots first hand. Although he hadn’t thought about it much at first, as a young newly hired pilot, Marshall realized that none of his fellow coworkers shared his cultural experiences as a black man.
While on one of his early flights, Marshall, along with his coworkers, walked proudly through an airport in uniform. Much to his surprise, another black pilot in uniform tapped him on the shoulder. It turned out to be Bill Norwood, the first black pilot hired by United Airlines. Mr.
Norwood welcomed Marshall to the company and congratulated him on getting hired. What happened next left a lasting impact on Marshall and continues to influence how he conducts his life today.
Mr. Norwood pulled Marshall to the side and reminded Marshall that other black pilots paved the way to open doors for young black men to get hired. Norwood continued, “Without the sacrifices and determination of men like the Tuskegee Airmen and myself, who fought to cross the color line, you would not have been lucky enough to have this opportunity. So now, it is up to you to make it your mission to help others succeed in this industry.” Mr. Norwood told Marshall that whenever he was in uniform, he should make time to talk directly to young black kids at the airport.
Tony Marshall said, “I took this advice to heart.”
Today, Marshall runs the California Shades of Blue Aeronautics Academy. With the support of Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson, Shades of Blue completed two successful classes of middle school students in 2015. Participants in the Academy attend a five week academic course, and they get to meet aeronautics professionals like local Cessna Airplane owners. The Fall 2015 class was introduced to Jet Fighter Pilot Lt. Malone from San Diego.
One very exciting part of the course includes an orientation flight at Flabob Airport where students actually get to take control of a Cessna plane while in the air. “At first, I didn’t think I would like the class because it was early in the morning on a Saturday,” said 6th grade student Izaiah Frazier. “It turned out to be a great experience. I will never forget it.” Frazier continued.
Frazier attended the Fall 2015 session. In spite of the low diversity numbers that continue to plague the aerospace industry – only 4 percent women pilots, less than 3 percent African-American pilots, 2.5 percent Asia pilots, and 5 percent Hispanic pilots — there is good news for young minority students like Frazier. Going forward, the airline industry as a whole is preparing for tremendous growth. In addition to the large number of commercial airline pilots needed over the next 20 years, there will also be a need for over 600,000 additional commercial airline maintenance technicians, aircraft manufacturers, equipment trainers, and training delivery organizations. Marshall believes that helping students to discover these opportunities at a young age could have a big payoff somewhere down the line. He is determined that minority youth are poised to take advantage of the abundance of aviation opportunities to come.
It couldn’t come soon enough for Marshall. Today, only 4 percent of airline transport pilots are women, just under 3 percent are African-American, 2.5 percent are Asian, and 5 percent are Hispanic.
The Spring 2016 Academy opened on Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Rialto with words of wisdom from Mayor Deborah Robertson and Rialto School District Superintendent Dr. Cuauhtemoc Avila. Both shared personal stories of their life experiences, challenges, and successes. Students were advised to take full advantage of every opportunity that crossed their path.