FedEx Pilot Applies Life Lessons to Reach Top OBAP Post

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
Capt. Joel Webley (FedEx Express), second row, right, and other ALPA members at the Association’s booth during last year’s OBAP conference.

As a high school student, Capt. Joel Webley (FedEx Express) could never have imagined leading a group like the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP). However, years later, his extensive education and experience would help him do just that—although he believes the primary reason for this success was significantly more fundamental.

“Opportunities have presented themselves because I was always willing to raise my hand,” Webley remarked, adding that this willingness to get involved and help has opened numerous doors during what continues to be a truly remarkable career.

Influenced by his father who was a general aviation pilot, Webley began taking flying lessons in high school. He soon learned about OBAP when he participated in a two-week summer camp run by the organization in conjunction with Western Michigan University (WMU). “It was an immersive learning experience,” Webley remembered, noting, “We stayed in the dorms on the campus, took ground school classes, participated in tours, and did some flying.”

Both OBAP and the university would make lasting impressions on the young pilot. Webley, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., later majored in aviation flight science at WMU. However, he didn’t immediately take to the skies.

Instead, Webley earned a master’s degree from Boston University in project management and spent five years working for General Electric, designing software applications. But the desire to fly was too great and a discussion with a former college advisor led Webley to consider leaving the corporate world for the U.S. Air Force.

Another lesson Webley has tried to apply throughout his life is seeking the guidance and recommendations of others. “Over time, I’ve learned to listen to people smarter than me and take their advice,” he said. “I take very little credit for what I’ve achieved in life. Obviously, I put in the work, but most of my best decisions were the result of mentors guiding me through the different choices I needed to make.”

Webley flew Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers for the Air Force for 13 years before following the suggestions of two friends and transitioning to civilian cargo flying. FedEx Express was Webley’s first choice, and in 2018 he became a pilot for the carrier. He also flies the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus with the 157th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard.

About the time Webley was hired by FedEx, a college friend asked for his assistance on several OBAP projects. Remembering the positive camp experience from his youth, Webley was happy to help. He continued raising his hand when opportunities arose at OBAP and eventually chaired several committees and served as a program director and treasurer. In January 2021, he was appointed the board chair, the organization’s highest office.

Founded in 1976, OBAP is a nonprofit group dedicated to the advancement of minorities in all aviation and aerospace careers. The organization promotes diversity in these industries by helping aspiring aviation professionals through Project Aerospace, scholarships, training and mentoring, and youth-focused education programs, like the summer camp Webley attended.

During his tenure as OBAP board chair, Webley has helped lead a major modernization crusade. The COVID-19 pandemic thoroughly tested the organization’s traditional business model, compelling the FedEx pilot to work with other board members to better organize staff, insulate the group from similar future challenges, and prepare a strategic plan with goals and objectives to guide OBAP and better prepare the next administration when it takes office.

Meanwhile, Webley continues to engage others and volunteer his time as he manages his current obligations and considers future opportunities. “You’d be amazed at how many doors you can unlock in your life by simply raising your hand when someone asks for volunteers,” he recently told WMU students in a university web post. “The next time they need assistance or have a special opportunity, they’re going to go back to those who’ve been helpful in the past,” he said, adding, “It’s just how the world works.”

Learn More

Learn more about the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) online. Look for ALPA’s booth at this year’s OBAP convention in New Orleans, La., August 9–11.

This article was originally published in the February 2023 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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