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Amid this year's unprecedented post-pandemic air travel challenges, airlines are making concerted efforts to alter the way they do things.
With staffing shortages being the root cause of the widespread flight disruptions that have characterized commercial aviation in 2022, much of their current campaigns are focused on hiring. And, they're rethinking and broadening their recruitment efforts including becoming more cognizant and proactive about incorporating diverse populations into the workforce.
Air carriers are trying to attract more women and minorities to fill pilot positions, especially since so many former aviators took buyouts and early retirement offers in the pandemic's early days. Over the past few months, they've also found themselves contending with current pilots' protesting for higher pay, etc.
Since the dawn of passenger jets, pilots have predominantly been white and male, and not much has changed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least 95 percent of the approximately 158,000 pilots employed in the U.S. are men.
Some airlines are actively endeavoring to enlist women and people of color to fill their pilot training programs, introducing them to a career from which they've largely been excluded until now.
"This is a very male-dominated industry," Dana Donati, a former Republic Airways pilot, told ABC News. "It's about time the industry looks at how they have historically operated," she added.
Now, as CEO of United Aviate Academy-United Airlines' 12-month pilot training program near Phoenix, Arizona-she is working to change the old system and diversify cockpit operators. When it first opened earlier this year, 80 percent of the academy's inaugural class consisted of women or people of color.
Captain Theresa Claiborne, the first Black woman to become a U.S. Air Force pilot and a current United Airlines pilot, said that flying has historically been an "elitist" occupation. "They did not make any provisions. So, it's been perpetuated," said
She attributes the scarcity of people of color currently working as pilots to the overall costs of flying and training as an aviator, paired with the generational and economic disadvantages facing many minority populations.
According to Sisters of the Skies, an advocacy organization for Black female pilots, less than one percent of the profession are Black women, which equates to roughly 200 individuals. "It's time that we think differently about how we're approaching our communities and supporting students entering this career," Donati said.
The total costs of education, earning a commercial pilot's license and completing the 1,500 hours of flight training required by the FAA come to about $100,000, which can prove cost-prohibitive for many an aspiring aviator.
"That's a lot of money. And financial institutions are not [champing] at the bit to loan that kind of money to an aviation student," Claiborne said. "We don't have these long generations of pilots in the family."
Other major airlines are also actively strengthening their diversity efforts, such as Delta Airlines, which created its Delta Propel Career Path Program to provide an accelerated career path to the cockpit for selected students at 13 partner universities in the U.S.
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Laurie Baratti is a San Diego-based journalist whose work has previously appeared in publications like TravelAge West, SPACE,...
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