Success Story

26-year-old rises from loading bags onto plane to becoming a pilot

At the early age of six, Justin Mutawassim knew he wanted to be a pilot. A year before, he had seen what a cockpit looks like after being invited by Delta pilots to take a look during his first flight. Fascinated by what he saw, Mutawassim was bent on becoming a pilot.

But while in middle school, a teacher told him that he would need perfect vision in order to become one. That dampened his spirits, meanwhile, that information was wrong. “When I heard that, I was really defeated,” Mutawassim, who wears glasses, recalled to The Washington Post. “I didn’t really have the ability to fact check that.”

In 2014 when he graduated from high school, he started a career in broadcasting, working part-time as a technical director for some minor league sports teams before deciding to study for a communications degree at a community college in Dallas. A year after starting the course, he dropped out over a lack of interest. Certainly, his dream of joining the aviation industry remained so he started work as a ramp agent for Delta Air Lines, where he soon rose from agent to supervisor, and then, instructor.

While serving in these roles, Mutawassim never forgot his interest in becoming a pilot but he didn’t know how to go about it until he met Ivor Martin in 2016, a pilot for Virgin America. Martin helped Mutawassim come up with a career plan that could enable him to achieve his dream. He assisted Mutawassim with his written tests to apply for flight school and advised Mutawassim’s parents to co-sign a loan that will cater to his degree.

Mutawassim went to ATP Flight School in Dallas and passed all the requirements needed to become a commercial pilot. In 2018, he began work as a pilot for a regional airline, Republic Airways, before moving to a start-up airline called Breeze Airways in 2021. After six months there, he applied for a position at Delta after getting to know that a college degree was no longer required for pilots.

Mutawassim got the job and completed his final qualification flight on October 1 after about five months of training. “It feels incredibly surreal still,” said Mutawassim. Less than 3% of commercial airline pilots in America are Black, according to one report, and this makes Mutawassim’s story very inspiring.

The 26-year-old from New York City is now aiming to become a captain.

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor is a writer and content creator. She loves writing about health and women's issues in Africa and the African diaspora.

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