Recently, officials from United Airlines visited Texas Southern University to announce a partnership with the university that includes a significant, six-figure scholarship program and ongoing mentorship activities between United employees and students in TSU’s Aviation Science and Technology program, including the professional pilot concentration.
The Defender scored an exclusive interview with Terence Fontaine, a retired Continental Airlines pilot and Triple Seven pilot instructor, and current director of TSU’s aviation program, to understand the significance of this partnership.
DEFENDER: How would you sum up the TSU/United partnership?
TERENCE FONTAINE: This is historic in nature for the aviation program here at Texas Southern to have a major airline who has vested itself within the aviation program here at TSU. Our students are the benefactors of such a huge investment, not only monetarily, but also their mentorship program. The money is always good. We’re never going to turn down any money that could lead to scholarships for our management students and our pilots. However, they also have a mentorship program that they’re offering, and this will make the second time that the United Airlines personnel have flown all the way from Chicago, Illinois, just to come to TSU to mentor our aviation students. You can’t put a price tag on that. That’s just caring, caring about the industry’s future. Caring about diversification. Caring about inclusion within their airline.
DEFENDER: What does this say about United?
FONTAINE: I just can’t say enough about the good folks at United Airlines. And a guy who I just admired is their African American president, Brett Hart who’s a friend of mine. This guy has put his money where his mouth is because he and his family have invested into this program personally, aside from United Airlines money.
DEFENDER: What does this say about the growth of TSU’s aviation program?
FONTAINE: Just think about the fact June of 2018, when I got here, we had no flight instructors and no airplanes. Now we’re getting ready to buy our sixth airplane, we’ve got five instructors and we’re just head over heels about the progress we’re making on the flight side. The management program has been around since 1986 and the folks that have graduated from our management program, they’re all over the country, all over the world in different positions. I just met a United Airlines pilot just the other day who graduated from the program in 2004 in aviation management. We’ve only had a flight program since 2016, and the management program since 1986. So, to see the folks at United Airlines take this kind of interest in us is just something that really has us believing that not only do we want to be the best HBCU to have an aviation program, but we want to be thought of on the same lines as an Emery Riddle or Purdue University from a national outlook.
DEFENDER: Those are top-tier aviation programs.
FONTAINE: That’s how we would like to be measured. We’re in the candidate status to become AABI (Aviation Accreditation Board International) accredited. We want to be the first HBCU flight program in the history of the country to ever have AABI accreditation. And we like that because it puts a lot of pressure on our program to have student-learned outcomes and manageable outcomes and program outcomes. We’re looking forward to having AABI within the next several months. AABI is seen as the gold standard in aviation programs. That’s what we want to be seen as. That is what’s going to provide job opportunities for our students for years to come.
DEFENDER: To what do you attribute the program’s continued growth?
FONTAINE: As I said, in the press conference with United, we would not have the success we have without the outpouring of support from our regents and our president, Dr. Lesia Crumpton-Young. The first graduation she oversaw at TSU was our summer program graduation for our Junior Air Force ROTC students. On the way out the door, I asked her for an airplane. And guess what she did? She bought it. We’ve got a president who is an aviation enthusiast. She understands the job market needs 250,000 pilots in the next 15 years. And TSU needs to be right there providing all they possibly can to get through this storm, if you will, that the aviation industry is in with regard to hiring pilots.
DEFENDER: How is TSU positioned to impact the aviation industry moving forward?
FONTAINE: Black male pilots represent less than 2.4% of all pilots that are flying commercially. Black female pilots make up less than 0.3% of all pilots in the industry. So, when we have a chance here at TSU to improve those numbers, that puts us in a very powerful position. That’s the reason why I tell our students all the time, “You a commodity; look at yourself as a commodity.” It’s just like the stock. When people invest in the stock market, they’re putting money in because they’re planning on getting a return on their investment. That’s why they invest in the stock market. The reason why you have an airline like a United Airlines and others who want to be a part of TSU because our students in the aviation program are commodity. And they understand that when they invest in that commodity, the return on investment will be who we graduate from this program coming to their airlines to work.
AVIATION FIELD NUMBERS
Pilots needed in next 15 years.
Of all commercial pilots are Black males.
Of all industry pilots are Black females.