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Advancing Equal Opportunity in the Aviation Industry

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Many of the most common disparities stemming from a lack of equal opportunity are also prevalent within the aviation industry. Just 3.4% of aircraft pilots and flight engineers in America are Black or African American, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 2.2% are Asian, 5% are Hispanic or Latino, and 5.6% are women.

The problem persists outside the cockpit, too. As reported in Travel Weekly, the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) noted that African Americans held just 5.6% of airport management positions and 6.5% of airport executive positions.

Though these gaps have seen slight improvements, the industry is still far from achieving equal opportunity and representation. For impact investors, this need opens the door to promote equity in aviation.

Finding Allies in the Air and on the Tarmac

Currently, only a select few organizations target their efforts toward achieving greater equity in the aviation industry. AMAC claims to be “the only national, non-profit trade association dedicated to advancing the full participation of minorities and women in employment and contracting opportunities throughout the aviation and aerospace industries.”

Most AMAC members are airport concessionaires—small businesses that provide food and beverages, news, gifts, and ground mobility services. The council works alongside the AMAC Foundation, which develops educational programs and provides scholarships to minority and women students who plan to become aviation professionals.

AMAC is not alone in fighting for this cause, however. Other groups include Sisters of the Skies, which seeks “to develop pathways and partnerships to increase the number of Black women in the professional pilot career field.” Likewise, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals works to shape “an aerospace industry as diverse as the people we serve.”

Launch Pad BWI runs an “internship” program for small and minority businesses to launch retail or food and beverage businesses at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Piloted in 2017, the program has produced graduates such as Fran’s Organic Bodycare and Fashion Spa House.

Inclusion and diversity have been the focus of initiatives and outreach events across the country as airport authorities explore contracting opportunities for local, small, and more diverse businesses.

Diversity touches upon many issues that concern impact investors.

Reeling from the Pandemic

The 2020 pandemic disproportionately affected communities of color and revealed existing fissures in racial equity. Women- and minority-owned businesses in aviation encountered similarly pointed effects: revenues dropped an average 90% as airports all but shut down during the COVID-19 crisis, according to AMAC. Many businesses serving fliers were therefore forced to close.

AMAC unsuccessfully petitioned Congress for targeted assistance as part of the CARES Act. Writing in an open letter, the council stated that airport concessionaires are the fourth partner in the aviation ecosystem alongside air carriers, airports, and associated contractors. However, they are the only one not to receive targeted pandemic assistance.

Regardless, AMAC partnered with Denver International Airport to create a Commerce HUB with resources to support disadvantaged airport concession business enterprises on the path to financial recovery.

Making the Case for Impact Investors

Diversity touches upon many issues that concern impact investors. Yet in the aviation industry and in others, improving female and minority representation is not only a question of ethics—it also makes good business sense.

Greater diversity brings new ideas and perspectives. It can also boost aviation companies’ understanding of underserved demographics and open up access to more customer markets. A clear link connects greater diversity to commercial success among airlines with a clearly defined business model, according to a study by leadership consulting firm Egon Zehnder.

As investors’ interest in addressing prominent social gaps rises, so can opportunities to support and foster diversity.

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