We could soon be flying in friendly and not so white skies


United Airlines took a big step last week to make its crew look like 2020s America. The airline is opening the doors of opportunity to more citizens, so the result could be that flying commercial may look very different in the next few years – especially when you step off the plane at the bridge and take a look at those working in the cockpit.

According to the quoted source, approximately 90% of all US-based pilots are predominantly white and male. We could explain down a rabbit hole the size of a Dreamliner why the composite sketch of a commercial pilot is a white male in his 40s; although one guess we cannot make is the demographic breakdown of US military pilots. Yes, the percentage of those pilots who are white males within the armed forces remains at a similar ratio, but the reality is that the military is funneling fewer pilots because private aviation schools are training more.

Ultimately, the challenge is one of access.

The costs of training to become a commercial pilot are among the barriers many people face when considering a career in the skies, but United insists it is working to remove this barrier. The airline, which claims to be the only major airline to have its own flight training school, has opened the United Aviate Academy. Of the inaugural class that began last week, 80% of these aspiring pilots are either women or people of color. The new academy is part of United’s goal to hire at least 10,000 new pilots by the end of this decade, with the airline planning to have half of them go through its flight academy. United will need staff as the company plans to acquire 500 new planes to meet what the wider industry expects will be a further increase in air travel if and when the world can weather this pandemic.

JPMorgan Chase is lending funds to the effort, with the financial giant funding around $2.5 million in scholarships for aspiring pilots who attend United’s new flight academy. Meanwhile, the airline says it has its own plan in place to build a more diverse flight crew, which will be supported by more targeted recruitment, partnership and financial aid programs.

“Our drivers are the best in the business and have set a high standard of excellence,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a recent public statement. “Recruiting and training even more people who have the same level of talent, motivation and skill is the right thing to do and will make us an even better airline. I couldn’t be more proud of this first group of students and I look forward to meeting the thousands of talented people who will walk through these doors in the years to come.”

Don’t be surprised if other airlines here in the United States, as well as those overseas, are adopting a similar strategy. A consultancy has estimated that the world could experience a shortage of 34,000 commercial pilots by 2025 – and that number could rise to 50,000 depending on how the airline industry recovers over the next few years.

Image credit: Chris Leipelt via Unsplash

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