“Our flight deck should reflect the diverse group of people on board our planes every day,” the airline said in a tweet.
While some social media users praised the goal, others protested — and some high-profile conservative media personalities described the goal as “wokeness” run amok.
A spokesman for United declined to address the pushback. The airline responded to one user in a tweet, saying that all “highly qualified candidates” who are accepted into the academy “will have met or exceeded the standards we set for admittance.”
“Our commitment to diversity is about recruiting from the deepest pool possible of exceptional and qualified candidates who want to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot, particularly those who otherwise may not have attempted to do so due to a variety of factors, primarily financial barriers,” said United spokesman Charles Hobart. “We believe that we’re going to be a better, strong airline because of this and we also understand that our pilot group needs to better reflect the communities that we serve.”
United and its credit card partner, JPMorgan Chase, have dedicated $2.4 million in scholarship money to the goal. The airline is partnering with groups including the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Sisters of the Skies, the Latino Pilots Association and the Professional Asian Pilots Association, which will identify applicants for the scholarships and help direct potential students to the United Aviate Academy.
“It’s about recruiting from the deepest pool possible and ensuring that we’re able to bring more qualified candidates into the pilot pipeline,” Hobart said. “By looking everywhere for talent, particularly within communities that have traditionally been underserved while also upholding our high standards, we’ll be a better airline for it.”
Joel Webley, chair of the board of directors of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, said in a statement that the group plans to form a consortium of nonprofits to provide additional support for scholarship recipients including mentorship, career development resources and financial help. He called the United goal “an ambitious and public affirmation of not only the value of diversity, but the business benefits of it.”
“It’s a bold statement, and United Airlines should be applauded for having the courage to state it so publicly,” Webley said. “Over the years, many companies have dedicated resources and dollars to solving these challenges, but rarely with this level of direct investment for students. We hope Aviate will serve as a model for other companies in the future.”
United says it expects to hire more than 10,000 pilots total over the next decade, roughly double the amount it plans to train. For those who take the United Aviate Academy path, the flight training school’s website lays out the years-long process to become a United pilot, including training, building flight hours and flying for a regional carrier.
“We will be sure that all safety standards are met and will continue to be met,” said Capt. Todd Insler, chairman of the pilot union at United. “This will not be dumbed down. It will be plussed up.”
He said the union supports the initiative “because it provides opportunities and exposure for individuals who may not have pursued a career in aviation.”
The blowback to the announcement suggested United was prioritizing the wrong qualities, and in many cases, criticism overlooked the fact that pilots would still have to undergo extensive training to be eligible for a job.
Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh penned an opinion piece titled “United Offers Passengers Exciting Opportunity To Die In Diverse And Equitable Plane Crash.” Fox News host Tucker Carlson tackled the issue the day after United’s announcement, accusing the airline of prioritizing identity politics over safety.
“So if hiring on the basis of irrelevant criteria will, over time, get people killed — and it will — why are they demanding it?” he said. “Because they don’t care. They’re ideologues. They’re suffering from an incurable brain disease called wokeness.”
And Piers Morgan — who resigned from “Good Morning Britain” last month after criticizing Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — wrote in the Daily Mail that White male pilots were being discriminated against by the airline’s plan.
“The woke tyranny that’s swept through corporate America is now forcing companies like United into making these asinine, potentially deadly decisions purely to appease the woke mob and pre-emptively defend themselves against non-existent racism or sexism,” he wrote.
Courtland Savage, founder and CEO of Fly for the Culture, which aims to expand diversity in aviation by working with young people who are interested in the profession, said the goal of the program was great. But he said the airline will need to use new methods of drawing women and people of color to the field.
“New methods will be needed to attract the younger generation,” he said in an email. “The current culture of aviation is toxic.”
He said the views espoused by Carlson are shared by some pilots — which, he said, is a risk to aviation. Savage, who recently resigned as an airline pilot and started the recruiting and aviation consulting company Savage Aviation, said the kind of vitriol that followed the announcement could hurt the efforts to draw more diverse candidates to the field.
“Children, young teens, young adults all see the comments on social media,” he said.