OBAP Board Member Tennesse Garvey Speaks to Elevating Experiences for Black Aerospace Professionals


In celebration of Black History Month, Connected Aviation Today is highlighting Black voices in the aviation community that are focused on creating a more diverse and inclusive aviation workforce. As a result, we had the pleasure of speaking with Tennesse Garvey, a board member at the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) and First Officer with United Airlines. Garvey oversees OBAP’s U.S. collegiate and adult professional development programs and shared with us details about his own career as a pilot and how organizations like OBAP are working to encourage diversity in the aerospace industry. 

Garvey first fell in love with aviation in his home country of Jamaica after seeing his father off on a business trip at the airport as a young boy. “I saw the airplanes flying overhead and it was love at first sight,” he reminisced. From that point on, Garvey did everything in his power to pursue a career in aviation.  

In our conversation, Garvey emphasized the importance of organizations that promote diversity in aviation. He reflected on his own experiences when he was first hired as a pilot; he was the only Black pilot in his group of 32 peers, with no female pilots at all. His experiences, and the experience of many other Black aerospace professionals, are why he is passionate about the OBAP mission and creating a clear pathway for young people of color to make their entrance into aerospace. 

Read below for our full conversation: 

Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: Tell us a bit about OBAP and its mission. 

Tennesse Garvey, Board Member at the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) and First Officer with United Airlines

Tennesse Garvey: This year actually marks our 45th anniversary as an organization. It started with 37 African American pilots gathering together to try and figure out what they can do to bring more Black pilots into the industry. At the time, that group accounted for about half of the Black pilots flying at the commercial level in the U.S., so it was a pressing question to ask. On top of increasing a Black presence in aviation, OBAP has always focused on how to foster an environment that allows Black pilots to continue growing and learning throughout their career.  

Originally, we were called the Organization of Black Airline Pilots. Now fast forward 45 years, and our mission has grown and evolved to include Black aerospace professionals of all kinds. As most people know, diversity is something that the aviation industry has struggled with for a long time and OBAP is focused on inspiring young people of color to pursue careers in all areas of aerospace and keep forging the path forward for a more diverse industry. Representation is so important in this effort because when kids can see it right in front of them, they’ll know that they too can aspire to do great things.   

CAT Editors: What advice do you have for young people of color looking to start a career in the world of aerospace? 

Garvey: My first piece of advice is that you shouldn’t feel like you have to do it on your own. Organizations like OBAP, the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE), and Tuskegee NEXT, just to name a few, are there to help support your training and offer you mentorship throughout your path. Mentorship is key here, because you could be guided towards opportunities that you may not even realize exist for you. 

Secondly, it’s important to be hungry. Be hungry about pursuing the path you want and do what you need to in order to achieve that dream. Nothing worth having in life comes easy. Being successful begins with a certain mindset – you know what you want and you’re going to do what it takes to get across the finish line. 

CAT Editors: Where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth in the aviation industry? 

Garvey: When we look at the industry pre-COVID, airlines were seeing historic growth and record revenues. As airlines continue expanding into new markets and increasing their fleet sizes, we are going to see a heavy demand for pilots, especially over the next five to 10 years. United Airlines actually just recently announced that they are resuming hiring efforts for 2021 in response to that expected demand. And with the need for pilots continuing to grow, we’re going to see every other area of aviation that supports flight grow as well. For example, there are new opportunities within agencies like the FAA with a need for different positions now like aviation safety inspector. 

From an engineering perspective, industry technology is constantly evolving. When it comes down to the need for software and aerospace engineers, I definitely see that area growing as well. The technology is always improving upon itself in new ways. It’s been just over 100 years since the first manned flight and look at how far that technology has come. Even in just the past 20 years, it’s unbelievable. 

CAT Editors: The start of the Explore Aerospace program is around the corner. What are some of the main takeaways you want to highlight for participants? 

Garvey: With programs like Explore Aerospace, we don’t just want to expose students to aerospace and its opportunities. We really want to help them actually achieve those dreams and help them go from where they are to where they can be, wherever that might be in the world of aviation. Ultimately, the Explore Aerospace program bridges the gap between OBAP’s Aerospace Professionals In Schools (APIS) program and the Aerospace Career Education (ACE) Academy.  

It’s a 12-week, interactive, virtual learning experience that gets kids involved in different aspects of aerospace where they get to actually meet and learn directly from different aerospace professionals. For example, the weather lesson is being taught by a doctor from NOAA, and attendees will get the chance to ask questions and learn directly from that field expert. 

We’re very excited about it and it’s an all new program for our organization. We think students are going to really enjoy it and it will help them cultivate that passion for aerospace at such an important age. And because we don’t want money to be a barrier to entry for these kids who are excited to learn more about aerospace, we are offering an unlimited amount of tuition waivers for those that need it. This is a great example of finding that support in the aviation community that I mentioned earlier. We don’t want money to be what separates these kids from achieving their potential.  

You can learn more about OBAP’s Explore Aerospace program, starting this month, here.