Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Captain Tammy Binns
Black Pilots Blazing The Trail: First Officer Tammy Binns
Did you know that women of color represent less than 1 percent of professional pilots in today’s industry?
In this feature, we will speak with a few of those women who are blazing the trail and clearing the path for those that will come after them. While each pilot’s story is different, one thing remains the same, they are doing something that many didn’t think they could do.
Our first trailblazer is First Officer Tammy Binns. She’s been flying for over 13 years and most recently began working for American Airlines about a year ago.
While First Officer Binns’s rise to becoming a commercial airline pilot is impressive in itself, her life’s journey speaks volumes to the type of woman that she is.
Tammy was born in Long Beach, California and raised in Harbor City until the age of 10.
After enduring severe abuse in her marriage, Tammy’s mother packed up her and her sister and took them to Jamaica where she was originally from.
This move was quite an adjustment for the family. Tammy went from living a middle-class American life to literally having almost nothing while in Jamaica.
“We were living off of the kindness of family members in Jamaica,” Tammy told Travel Noire. “I took showers via a watering can for the four years that we lived there.”
While in Jamaica — Tammy, her mother, and sister — attended the same school together. As one of the only options for schooling in the area, the three women all went to Northern Caribbean University at the same time.
“My mother enrolled in the college to officially get her nursing degree. My sister was in high school, and I was in prep school. The university was home to all of the schools from elementary to college.”
After her mom was able to get on her feet, they moved back to the States, this time landing in Miami.
Journey into aviation
Tammy went on to attend Andrews University in Michigan. She initially enrolled as a music major but quickly found that wasn’t for her. Next, she tried her hand at Speech Pathology and Audiology. Again, she decided to change her major yet again.
Her best friend suggested that she get serious and find what it was she loved and to do it fast.
“During our Freshman year, we took an aptitude test to see which majors fit us best. My best friend suggested that I use that as a guide to figure out what I wanted to do. After digging out the test, it showed that aviation was a good match for me.”
At the advice of the test, Tammy started her path into aviation. She went on to complete her degree in Aviation Mechanics and also got her private license and instrument during those years.
After college, she made her way back to Florida and enrolled in Regional Airline Academy. She finished all training there and luckily the program had an agreement with American Eagle. So, she landed a job flying with them where she remained for 11 years. Tammy later transitioned over to American Airlines where she has now been for the last year.
“God has been more than good. My mom was incredibly supportive. It was just important to her for me to find and do something that I truly loved.”
Being a trailblazer
As a child, race was never something that was brought up to Tammy until she was accused of being racist in elementary school. After being called to the office with several other children, she had to learn early what it means to be black and white.
“It took me a while to accept and understand who I was as a mixed person. I was too white for the black kids and too black for the white ones. It’s not that I’m neither Black nor white, the reality is I am both. My race is certainly something that I am proud of, especially since learning that my father never wanted us to realize we were black.”
Tammy has certainly set many firsts for Black women in aviation. However, it took her some time to come to terms with that.
“Sometimes when you’re blazing the trail, you don’t know it,” Tammy said. “You’re just showing up. It’s not until others point out to me the things that I am doing in the industry. I’m finally coming to terms with who I am and what I am doing.”
Her advice to others
“Anything that you set your mind to, you can have. You’re going to face pushback no matter what because people expect only old, white men to be pilots. So, just keep pressing and don’t let those people get in your head. It’s very important to get a great support system behind you as well.”