The End of the All-Male, All-White Cockpit

The End of the All-Male, All-White Cockpit

By Niraj Chokshi
Zakiya Percy, left, an instructor at the Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy in Olive Branch, Miss., running through a preflight check with a student. (Andrea Morales for The New York Times)

Zakiya Percy, left, an instructor at the Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr. Flight Academy in Olive Branch, Miss., running through a preflight check with a student. (Andrea Morales for The New York Times)

Thursday, May 5, 2022 - 10:10am

For many like Ms. Percy, piloting has long been or seemed out of reach. Few women and people of color aspire to fly planes because they rarely see themselves in today’s flight decks. The cost of training and the toll of discrimination can be discouraging, too. Now there’s urgency for the industry to act. Pilots are in short supply, and if airlines want to make the most of the thriving recovery from the pandemic, they will have to learn to foster lasting change.

“The pilot shortage for the industry is real,” Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, told analysts and reporters on Thursday. “Most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years.”

Airlines have started to do more to diversify. United recently launched a flight school with the aim of hiring thousands of pilots in the years ahead, at least half of them women or people of color. Other carriers have launched similar initiatives, too. The goal is to staff up to meet the industry’s aspirations.

The Aviate Academy covers 28 acres and has two pools, two aircraft maintenance hangars, five dorms and 27 planes, with dozens more on order. It is owned by United, which bought the flight training school in 2020, and is part of the airline’s goal of hiring 5,000 pilots by 2030. Airline-owned schools are common abroad, but United’s is a first for a large U.S. airline. The carrier says it wants at least half of the new pilots to be women or people of color. Of the 121 students enrolled so far, about 78 percent are women or nonwhite, the airline said.

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