American Airlines Tries to Solve Diversity and Pilot Channeling Issues on the Fly

American Airlines’ efforts to build a pipeline of aviator recruits are starting to pay off as student pilots are graduating, on regional airlines and now on the Fort Worth-based airline’s main line.

After starting your cadet academy in 2018 to guide students through flight training and careers as commercial pilots, American Airlines hired its first two pilots through the program this month. That’s a five year journey as an American tries to address a two-pronged problem: a looming pilot shortage in one of the least diverse fields in the country.

Damion Washington, a 45-year-old from Illinois who spent time as a youth pastor before flight school, signed up to fly with American this month as a co-pilot based at DFW International Airport. American made the offer to Washington and another pilot, Keith Taylorin the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals conference earlier this month.

Washington spent a year with American’s regional airline Envoy before the call.

“He had a passion for aviation from a very young age,” said Washington, who moved his family to Arlington. “I had never seen a black pilot in an airline before so I thought maybe I had to go through the military or something to become a pilot and that wasn’t really something I wanted to do at the time. weather.”

American started the Cadet Academy program five years ago when major airlines realized they needed to do more to encourage student pilots before the industry faced a massive shortage. That shortage is here as airlines shut down service to small towns and park jets, despite soaring ticket costs that should encourage airlines to fly more.

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Airlines have begun putting together their own referral programs, helping students find schools and get loans to pay for flight school, which can cost anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 and take four years or more to reach 1,500 hours of time. flight certificates required to obtain a certificate to fly with a commercial airline.

Now all the major airlines and many regional airlines have pipeline programs and incentives have increased as well. Students who enroll early with American, complete school and become a captain on the major airline are eligible for more than $150,000 in grants and bonuses, essentially covering the high cost of training for those who remain with the company.

In the five years since the Cadet Academy began, the program has 600 cadets and 55 have been hired to work at American-owned wholly-owned regionals, including Envoy, PSA and Piedmont.

Analyst firm Oliver Wyman estimates there will be a worldwide pilot shortage of 80,000 by 2032. American Airlines, the world’s largest airline, had just over 17,000 pilots in both its mainline and regional operations as of early 2022.

Before regional airlines recently began raising first officer pay, pilots were coming out of school more than $100,000 in debt and expecting salaries of less than $40,000 a year. Mainline pilots at American earn more than $250,000 a year on average, but that can be a long way from the high debt student pilots incur.

Those circumstances also made piloting one of the least diverse career fields in the country. Fewer than 4% of pilots and flight engineers were black in 2021 and only 5% were women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Through the Cadet Academy and programs such as partnerships with the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, American hopes to find more pilots while increasing diversity.

“There are people of color, there are women, there are people with no flying experience, because this program really gives any aspiring aviator the opportunity to earn a seat on the flight deck,” said Christina Flores, CEO of talent and inclusion and diversity. American Global. .

Washington, who moved from Illinois to Arizona to go to flight school, was urged to investigate American’s Cadet Program by his wife, who works at the airline in the flight communications department.

But Washington said he always wanted to fly, even if he didn’t know the best path to becoming a professional pilot. Washington’s grandfather was the first black man to get a private pilot’s license in Arkansas, but Washington said airlines didn’t hire black pilots at the time.

Even almost 60 years later American Airlines Hired David Harris as the First Black Commercial Airline Pilot in the United States in 1964, only about 3% of American pilots are black, 13% are people of color, and 5% are women.

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom, left, is joined by David Harris, the first black...
American Airlines CEO Robert Isom, left, is joined by David Harris, the first black commercial airline pilots, and Keith Taylor and Damion Washington, who were hired in early August by American Airlines as chief pilots. They met at the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals conference in Phoenix on August 12.(Courtesy of American Airlines)

The company is still trying to push racial and gender diversity in the ranks of pilots. In 2021, the pilot classes of new hires improved slightly from the company’s overall rate. About a quarter were people of color, 5% were black, and 8% were women.

“We continue to be extremely intentional about diversifying the flight deck and spreading life-changing opportunity and impact. [of] this career path,” Flores said. “It’s bigger than just this one individual, but the generational wealth and opportunity that can be created for individuals, families and communities.”

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