Pete Buttigieg pledges to diversify aviation workforce during visit to Compton flying school

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Saturday, July 9, 2022
Buttigieg pledges to diversify aviation workforce during Compton visit
In a one-on-one interview with Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary spoke about the importance of a diverse aviation workforce, and about a Compton non-profit helping young people of color take to the skies.

COMPTON, Calif. (KABC) -- If you've traveled this summer or are heading to an airport soon, the possibility of delays and cancellations remain a major concern.

"We're glad to see demand has come roaring back, but now airlines are struggling to keep up and meet that demand," U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

Talking one-on-one with Eyewitness News during a visit to Compton, Buttigieg says the Federal Aviation Administration has added more air traffic controllers, airlines have boosted pay for pilots and some change fees have been eliminated, which is progress. But, areas of concern remain.

"Schedules that may not be realistic, and very it's important to be able to fly the actual schedules you're selling tickets on," Buttigieg said. "And these customer service issues, the only thing more frustrating than getting canceled or delayed is being at the airport, calling the airline and finding out it's going to take you three, five, eight hours to actually talk to somebody.

"So we're going to start investigating the customer service responsiveness, too. And when the flight does get canceled, the airline has to offer you a refund, and we will enforce that requirement."

Airlines have also struggled with staff shortages, especially among pilots. A non-profit based at the Compton-Woodley Airport is hoping to change that, while diversifying the workforce at the same time.

"Most minorities growing up, we're just not exposed to pilots or aviation or airports, or things of that nature. It takes exposure to something for you to build an interest in it and want to do it," said Demetrius Harris, the president of the Fly Compton Aeronautical Education Foundation.

And that's exactly what happened to Harris, a corporate pilot, who entered the profession a few years ago after boarding a commercial flight and seeing that both of his pilots were Black. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 93% of aircraft pilots and flight engineers in the U.S. are white, 6% Hispanic, 4% Black and 1.5% Asian. Fly Compton Aeronautical Education Foundation trains local kids ages 8 to 17, teaching them how to fly.

"Around the airport is low-income families, low-income kids, and so they need things to do other than being in the streets after school, and so this a resource," Harris said. "We have airport, airplanes, flight instructors."

Harris said it costs upwards of $60,000 to $100,000 to become a pilot.

"And lets be honest, most minority kids don't have that type of money," said Harris.

"It's a little nerve-racking, but also kind of comforting. Me personally, I'm afraid of heights. I won't get on a roller coaster, but a plane is different for me," said Cameron Daniels, a student at Fly Compton.

"You can just be free," said Aydin Washington, another student.

"I sat in the back seat while he's flying and it's amazing. I learned how to stay quiet, because I really want him to focus. He's amazing," said Rosa George, Aydin Washington's mother.

On Thursday, Buttigieg visited Fly Compton and met with the founders and students. America's aviation workforce looking more like America is one of his top priorities.

"Any time you have some Americans who have been excluded from opportunity, it's important to make sure there is an inclusive future. It's also important because the entire country is worse off, a field like aviation is worse off if you have people who could have been great pilots, could have been great aerospace engineers, but never even knew that was an option for them," Buttigieg said.

If you'd like to donate to Fly Compton to help them fund their programs, you can visit