The Crusader Newspaper Group

Nia Spiller’s pilot career began in middle school

NIA SPILLER AND Trinity MB Church Pastor Dwight Gardner on March 10, 2024, during a service to recognize her achievement of becoming a commercial airline pilot before age 25.

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals prepares minority youth for careers in aviation

After hearing Nia Spiller’s story, Trinity MB Church Pastor Dwight Gardner told his congregation, “We just had an example of reverse AI. Her parents didn’t ask what do you want to do. They told her what she was going to do.”

The summer she was about to enter middle school, Spiller said, “My dad, who is an air traffic controller, told us, ‘There’s an aviation camp. I’m going to put you guys in it.’”

Today, not yet 25 years old, Spiller is a First Officer at Republic Airways.

“The First Officer is the co-pilot and the pilot is the Captain,” Spiller explained. “And believe it or not, the first officers, we do fly. A common misconception is the captain flies everything. We split it about half and half.” That’s how she will earn flying hours to upgrade to captain.

Spiller is no stranger to Gary and Trinity. Her dad, Brelis and mom, Nathalie are from Gary. Her grandmother Maxine Spiller beamed proudly from a pew. Sitting alongside were Nia’s uncle, aunt and cousins during the service on Sunday, March 10, 2024.

Maxine Spiller said Brelis’ job as an air traffic controller took him from Michigan to Mississippi to Louisville, KY where Nia was raised. Nia said she chose Republic Airways because of the planes they flew and the airline has a base in Louisville allowing her to live at home.

Spiller didn’t want anything to do with aviation camp. “I went in kicking and screaming. I was like … I have no interest in this. I don’t want to be here. I want to be a veterinarian, a lawyer.”

By day 3 of the week-long camp, she was hooked. Every summer after that, Spiller returned to camp. She became a camp volunteer in high school.

The summer camp was sponsored by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, a nonprofit formed to prepare minority youth and young adults for careers in aviation. OBAP hosts camps in 30 cities across the nation.

“We learned about the different facets of aviation. Not just being a pilot, but being an aircraft mechanic, being an air traffic controller, being a dispatcher – things that I had never considered for myself as a career,” Spiller said.

“I had my first solo flight at 16 and still didn’t know how to drive a car,” Spiller said. “By 18, the summer before I started college at Indiana State University, I had earned my private pilot’s license.”

Spiller graduated from ISU in 2021, completing its flying program.

“At ISU, I was one of the few Black people in the program. And I was the only Black woman in the program. And what I didn’t realize, and I just found out about a month or two ago was that I was the first Black woman to graduate from its professional flight program,” Spiller said.

“To be the first at ISU was surreal to me,” Spiller said. “I’m spreading awareness so there can be more people that look like us flying planes. I do speaking events. I still volunteer every year at the OBAP summer camp.”

After graduation, Spiller became a flight instructor to earn hours for her commercial pilot’s license. Spiller was a flight instructor when she spoke to the Bessie Coleman Aviation Camp at the Gary/Chicago International Airport in 2022.

Recent News

Scroll to Top