United Airlines has introduced a new programme through which it aims to get people – who you don’t typically see there – in the cockpit.
The airline is launching a programme to encourage women and people of colour to become pilots. The new United Aviate Academy includes scholarship money and special loans – all designed to break down the barriers that have long prevented the airline industry from becoming more diversified.
“The majority of pilots I fly with are not African American, and they’re not female. There are very few of us,” Gabrielle Harding, who has been flying for United Airlines for 14 years, was quoted by wcnc.com as saying.
Ms. Harding’s used to the stares she gets from passengers. “Especially when I’m walking through terminals, normally I turn heads, people are trying to figure out if I’m a pilot or a flight attendant,” she said.
Even her colleagues are often taken aback when she shows up to work. “It’s like being the purple unicorn because people are always shocked – including people I work with, a lot of times people I fly with, the captain — they have never encountered flying with a female, definitely flying with an African American female,” Ms. Harding recalled.
Only 7% of certified pilots are women, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and United said only 19% of its pilots are people of colour.
United’s Flight School
United Airlines is now working to change that with Aviate Academy. The company has pledged $1.2 million, and JPMorgan Chase has pledged another $1.2 million, to offer scholarships to women and African Americans who make it into the airline’s flight school.
“The main barrier is the financial one,” Ms. Harding said. “It costs $100,000 to go from zero hours to getting everything you need to become a commercial airline pilot.”
The plan is to enrol 100 students in its first year with the hope of adding 5,000 new pilots by 2030. “I wish this programme would have existed around 20 years ago when I started training because there is a roadmap in order to become a commercial airline pilot, and unless you have an ‘in,’ it’s hard for people – especially women and people of colour – who are in areas that may not have as much access,” Ms. Harding said.
The airline said it has committed to making sure at least half the students in this new Aviate Academy will be women or people of colour. It’s working with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other organisations to help with the recruiting process.