United Airlines Boasts New Racial and Gender Standard for Pilot Eligibility Emphasizing Women and People of Color

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A pilot walks by United Airlines gated planes at San Francisco International Airport. United Airlines seeks to shift this male dominated field, announcing that 50 percent of new pilots will be women or people of color.
A pilot walks by United Airlines gated planes at San Francisco International Airport. United Airlines seeks to shift this male dominated field, announcing that 50 percent of new pilots will be women or people of color. (Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

United Airlines recently announced that of the 5,000 pilots who will be trained within the next decade, 50 percent of them will be minorities and women of color. Their announcement on Twitter met with heavy criticism, where people expressed fear, worry and scepticism about the potential for reduced safety due to lesser qualified pilots.

United Airlines had plans to increase their diversity and take greater ownership of their education, training and hiring process back in February 2020, when it announced the purchase of Westwind School of Aeronautics in Phoenix, Arizona. After the purchase, they announced that they would rename the new academy and program Aviate, and make an effort to reduce financial burdens for minorities to help them become pilots.

“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,” said United CEO Scott Kirby in a recent press release. He also announced that they would commit $1.2 million to scholarships, which will be paired with an additional $1.2 million from JP Morgan Chase. The press release stated that their investments in the program aligned with their efforts to “advance racial equity.”

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Sisters of the Skies, the Latino Pilots Association and the Professional Asian Pilots Association are some of the organizations that have long-standing relationships with United and will help select candidates. They also announced partnerships with historically black colleges and universities: Delaware State University, Elizabeth City State University and Hampton University, which will help them recruit pilots. The first class of pilots is to begin studies near the end of this year, with expectations for them to graduate in 2022. 

Of United Airlines’ approximately 12,000 current pilots, 7 percent are women and 13 percent are minorities of color. 

After United Airlines announced on Twitter that 50% of new pilots trained would be women or people of color, in addition to some positive publicity, they also received many negative reactions. One woman wrote, “I’m far more concerned with merit when it comes to one’s ability to pilot a plane safely than with how that person looks. And you should be too, instead of pandering to wokeism.”

An African-British rapper by the name of Zuby commented: “This is incredibly stupid. Hire the best person for the job. Period. You think this is ‘woke’ but it’s dangerous. Meritocracy all the way.” Another woman wrote: “I’d really prefer you just blindly pick the ones who won’t crash.”

In addition to the Twitter reactions, news outlets such as RT and Fox News also gave the company bad publicity with achieving headlines such as: “Taking wokeism to new heights? United Airlines pledges 50% of pilot trainees will be women & minorities” and “Tucker Carlson: Pilot ability no longer matters to United Airlines, but skin color does