United Airlines sets new diversity goal for pilot training

CHICAGO — United Airlines began accepting applications for its new flight school on Tuesday and promised to focus on diversity in its push to train 5,000 new pilots by 2030.

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In a news release, the Chicago-based airline said that at least half of the new trainees will be women and people of color.

Currently, about 7% of United’s pilots are women and 13% are people of color, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In February 2020, United announced it had bought the Phoenix-based Westwind School of Aeronautics and renamed it Aviate Academy, Fox News reported. However, hiring was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

United said nearly 1,000 pilots left the company since September, according to the Tribune. Last August, American Airlines said 1,200 pilots had left, while unions said 1,806 Delta Air Lines pilots and more than 500 Southwest Airlines pilots took early retirement deals, the newspaper reported.

“Over the next decade, United will train 5,000 pilots who will be guaranteed a job with United, after they complete the requirements of the Aviate program -- and our plan is for half of them to be women and people of color,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said in a news release. “We’re excited that JPMorgan Chase has agreed to support our work to diversify our pilot ranks and create new opportunities for thousands of women and people of color who want to pursue a career in aviation.”

As more people are being vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions are easing, travel demand is rising again, The Wall Street Journal reported. United said last week it would resume hiring pilots it had halted last year, beginning with 300 pilots who had job offers and new-hire training plans delayed by the pandemic, the newspaper reported. On Monday, Southwest Airlines said it had recalled more than 200 pilots who had agreed to take extended time off as a cost-saving measure, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“We do not believe that (the pandemic) has impacted our outlook for hiring,” United’s chief pilot, Mary Ann Schaffer, told the Tribune. “If anything it will increase the numbers that we may need to hire in the future, especially since air travel seems to be rebounding now.”

United Aviate Academy students can expect to graduate from the one-year program with a commercial pilot’s license and the experience needed to begin working as a flight instructor, the Tribune reported. Going from the academy to a job at United should take about five years, the airline said.

United plans to work with the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Sisters of the Skies, the Latino Pilots Association and the Professional Asian Pilots Association to recruit more diverse candidates, the airline said in its news release. United and JPMorgan Chase each committed to provide $1.2 million in scholarships this year, and loans will be available.

The one-year program will cost roughly $100,000, the airline said in its release.