• Thu. Aug 4th, 2022

Airline industry experts seek to recruit more women and people of color

ByKimberly A. Brochu

Jun 23, 2022

Canceled flights, long queues and general chaos. Airlines are trying to keep pace as travel demand explodes following pandemic restrictions.

“When the pandemic hit, for most airlines in the country, our traffic volumes dropped by 85, 90, sometimes more than 90%,” said Captain Marc Champion, general manager of flight training at United. Airlines. “As traffic resumed, we had to bring back many people that we had sidelined, in some cases some carriers had furloughed, to bring airline operations back to where they were before the pandemic.”

Fewer pilots to operate the flights.

Consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimates that in most scenarios there will be a global gap of 34,000 pilots by 2025.

“We can’t hire enough pilots to keep up with the number of planes we have to fly,” said United Airlines Captain M’Lis Ward. She is also an evaluator at the training center and has been flying for over 30 years.

This is not a new problem. Airlines were looking to fill the pilot pipeline before the pandemic.

At United Airlines’ expanding training center, pilots get first-hand experience in the simulators. United plans to train around 5,000 pilots by 2030 through their United Aviate Academy, their pilot training school. Captain Champion says United are currently quite well staffed.

This summer, there have been waves of canceled flights due to weather conditions and lack of staff. American Airlines removed three destinations from its network in June. In the same month, Delta Airlines cut flights to seven cities.

But there’s still more effort to tap into groups who may not see it as a career option.

“The push right now for women and people of color and minorities too…isn’t just because it’s the right thing to do,” Captain Ward said. “It’s because there are a lot of talented drivers who don’t have the opportunity.”

She says finance is part of it.

Captain Ward is said to have been the first black female commercial aviation captain.

“I’m not going to say that I felt incredibly welcomed as a woman of color…when I was first hired,” she said. “Thirty years ago to today, it’s completely the opposite.”

Seven percent of all airline pilots are women. Only one percent are women of color, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Non-profit organizations advocating for greater representation of minorities in aviation are becoming more common.

“If you can’t see it, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing it. For women, for me, I would say that’s the biggest hurdle even now,” said Angel Hughes, the founder of the non-profit organization Sisters of the Skies.

The nonprofit organization offers mentorship and scholarships to women of color interested in aviation.

“These companies, various companies, everyone wants pilots,” Hughes said.

“If you look at the demand for airline employees over the next decade, if we don’t cast a wider net and make underrepresented groups more excited about careers in aviation, we won’t be able to never find the numbers of people we need to staff our airline, both at airports and on our planes, so it’s a business imperative for us,” Captain Champion said.

For airlines, getting people interested is just the first step. Captain Ward and Hughes strive to provide opportunity for those who may or may not know the opportunity exists.

“What is the end result? We have more great pilots. It doesn’t take away an opportunity from anyone. It’s an additional opportunity for everyone,” Captain Ward said. The United Aviate Academy – a pilot career development program – hopes that at least half of the pilots trained at the academy will be women or people of color.

“The pilot pipeline starts at the point where we inspire and motivate people to become pilots, professional pilots. It’s something that starts in high schools, colleges,” Captain Champion said.