This one has been 6 long years in the making.
How it started How it’s going pic.twitter.com/wXqN8lITE3
— Never Enough Legroom (@j_muta) September 30, 2022
There is no linear path to achieving one's professional dreams. While we may think that the natural progression of a person’s career is “go to school to acquire a specific set of abilities, apply for a job in that field, get that job,” some roads are much more serendipitous. Justin Mutawassim‘s story is a great example of this. He fell in love with airplanes when he was just 6 years old. The Delta pilots of his very first flight invited him to cockpit and he knew right then and there that he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up.
Unfortunately, when Mutawassim was in middle school, a teacher—who was a member of the United States Air Force—misinformed him by saying he would need perfect vision to become a pilot. “When I heard that, I was really defeated,” Mutawassim, who wears glasses, told The Washington Post. “I didn’t really have the ability to fact check that.” Feeling somewhat defeated, he decided to pursue a career in broadcasting after graduating from high school in 2014. Although he enjoyed it, it didn't fulfill him the way aviation would, leading him to drop out and taking a job as a ramp agent hauling bags for Delta Air Lines. That way, he would at least be surrounded by his beloved planes.
“Next thing you know, it turned into a year and a half of an awesome job,” he recalled. His passion and good performance led him to grow in the company from agent to supervisor, and later, instructor. “I just absolutely fell in love with the technical aspect of aviation.” However, he acknowledges the hardships of the position. “It was physically the hardest job I’ve ever done. Manual labor is no joke.” Learning about planes every day made his wish to become a pilot grow even more, but he didn't know how to pursue it until one life-altering exchange.
While riding an employee bus at Dallas Love Field Airport, he met Ivor Martin, who then worked as a pilot for Virgin America. The men started to chat, and Mutawassim eventually brought up his long-life dream. Martin replied “Justin, come over to my house. We’re going to sit down and talk about it.” He then established a plan for him to become a pilot and became his mentor. “I set out everything that he had to do, and he followed it to a T,” Martin, who is also a Black man and understood the importance of representation in role models, said.
Martin then helped Mutawassim with his application for flight school, where he excelled academically and completed the necessary licenses in 11 months. He then earned the 1,500 hours flight time required to become a commercial pilot and got a job at Republic Airways, a regional airline, in 2018, and Breeze Airways, a start-up airline, in 2021. His big break came the following year, when Delta dropped the college degree requirement for pilots. Mutawassim was finally able to apply for a position in the company that started it all for him. He got the job in May 2022, and by October he had finished the training and became a pilot of 767s for Delta.
Mutawassim marked this full-circle moment by tweeting a side-by-side picture of him first as a ramp agent and then as a pilot with the caption “This one has been 6 long years in the making. How it started / How it’s going.” While he only expected a few of his friends to see the images, his tweet went viral and inspired many of those who came across it.
As a way to pay it forward to young Black people who share his dream, Mutawassim volunteers at Professional Pilots of Tomorrow and Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. “It’s been really rewarding for me to start giving back to the community, and educating people about the profession,” he said. Now, the inspiring pilot is working toward his next goal: becoming a captain.
Justin Mutawassim loved planes so much he took a job as ramp agent when he thought he would not be able to become a pilot. After a life-altering exchange, he went from hauling bags to flying 767s for Delta in just six years.