Photo Credit: United Airlines
More Black Pilots Will Soon Fly The Skies Thanks To United's Aviate Academy
United’s Aviate Academy officially launched on January 27, 2022 to welcome more Black pilots and pilots of color to the skies. As an airline, United is committing to train around 5,000 new pilots at the school by 2030, with at least half being women or people of color.
This commitment is particularly important to note in the wider scope of the aviation industry where, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5.6% of pilots are women and 6% are people of color.
United’s Aviate Academy has seen a huge increase in budding Black pilots, including Black female pilots, who are often not widely represented in the industry. United created the academy with efforts to help create opportunities for aspiring pilots who may not have easy access to the industry.
When discussing the strategy to nurture and maintain the high standard of excellence amongst United pilots, United Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said, “Recruiting and training even more people who have that 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 prouder of this first group of students and look forward to meeting the thousands of talented individuals who will pass through these doors in the years to come.”
The airline hopes to see the academy train 500 students annually in efforts to achieve the 2030 goal of hiring at least 10,000 pilots.
We spoke with trainee Rickiesha to find out first-hand about the academy and to discover how this aspiring Black female pilot is finding her time with the program.
Here’s her story:
1. What drew you to the pilot life?
I was already in the industry as a flight attendant, so I was exposed to the lifestyle. I was in love with aviation and as far as moving to the other side of the door, a pilot suggested it to me one day.
He asked me, ‘Why not become a pilot?’ and I looked into it. It really was not originally on my radar. I didn’t even realize that I was able to enter that space, but once I got a chance to try it, I got the buzz.
2. How has that transition been to the other side of the door, from flight attendant to pilot?
I have a few years to go until I’m fully on the other side, but I am definitely on my way! It really is a different feeling to be able to fly.
You go from being a passenger to pretty much being a driver. Of course, you feel like you’re defying gravity. It really is exhilarating. So far, being on this side of things, I can honestly say I will not miss being a flight attendant, that is how much I’m loving it.
3. How did you find out about the training program itself?
Two people within a matter of a day told me about United’s Aviate Academy, plus I was already familiar with United as a company because I have friends who work for United and love them.
I already knew it was a good and reputable company, but I did not know about their initiative at the academy. When two people within 24 hours told me about it, I said, “Okay, that’s a sign”.
When I did my research, I really was impressed by them not just saying they want to diversify, but actually making moves to make it happen.
4. Would you say that you feel supported in the environment?
Yes, 100%. I feel like they want me here, I feel like I have the tools that I need, and I have support both academically and emotionally. It can be a tough environment.
We have a lot of training to do, and it is nice to be fully supported.
We also have our TSI instructor and our ground school instructor. So if we are unsure about a concept in class, it can be reinforced in the airplane. We also have emotional support by instructors who understand what we’re talking about and are able to offer advice because they are familiar with the concepts.
We’ve even been offered extra classes with voluntary attendance to help us along, too.
5. How much interaction had you had with Black pilots before joining the United Aviate Academy?
As a flight attendant I had come into contact with Black pilots in the past, not very often and definitely not Black female pilots.
Being in the academy now, I always get excited when I see a female pilot. Whenever I see Black pilots, it’s always great to have a conversation with them and get their story to learn whether they had a family connection or overcame whatever obstacles from their upbringing to get where they are.
I’m excited to help usher in a new era of Black female pilots.
6. What advice do you have for budding Black pilots who are considering joining the academy or even the industry as a whole?
First things first, do it! Easier said than done, I know, but the arena is open.
We had our grand opening today for the academy, and we had so many people show up and there were plenty of Black pilots in attendance, male and female, who are already in the industry. It made me realize that this is where I’m headed.
Anyone else who is trying to get into the industry, guess what? You have Black instructors to look up to and then you have myself and my peers who are on our way. It’s baby steps. If there are young Black girls who think it’s impossible just look at me, I’m not too far or too different from you at all. You can at least make it to where I am and by the time you’re where I am, I’m going to be where our instructors are. Before you know it, there will be examples every step of the way.