New NGO promotes ‘diversity’ to tackle pilot shortage

Dallas, Texas – A new NGO has been formed to help tackle the widening Pilot shortage crippling Western airline industries. The nonprofit—created by a former CEO of American Airlines (AA)—seeks to lower “barriers” for Black, Brown, and female candidates hoping to take the wheel of multimillion-dollar aircraft.

Known as Breaking Down Barriers, the group was formed by ex-AA CEO Doug Parker, who has partnered with local community organizations to provide scholarships in a bid to bump recruitment at the expense of White jobseekers. The organization has since been billed as a groundbreaking tool used to “identify young people in underserved communities” and “create pipeline(s) of pilots ready to hire.”

Doug and Gwen Parker during a press tour for Breaking Down Barriers, a nonprofit hoping to assist non-White and female applicants into starting careers as airline pilots. Photo: NBCDFW.

“We’re not going to have the best of the best if some have barriers that others don’t have,” said former American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. “(Non-Whites) don’t see people that look like themselves that have these jobs in their communities but in a few years they will,” Parker asserted.

The airline industry has suffered from a crippling pilot shortage in recent years, resulting in missed or delayed flights for thousands of international customers. Citing post-pandemic issues like increased customer demand and a deluge of age-related retirements, the pilot shortfall is expected to last until 2027, with an estimated shortage of about 10,000 personnel. Many of those leaving the profession are older, White male employees.

Parker hopes to tackle this problem head-on, filling cockpits with non-White and female candidates at a time when those qualified are few and far between. Fueling this decision is data from the Women in Aviation Advisory Board, which indicates that only 7% of U.S. airline pilots are female—combined with information from the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, which claims that under 4% of total pilots are Black, with Black female pilots amounting to 0.5%.

“It’s a wonderful profession. It’s a noble profession,” said Parker. “The only problem we see is that there are some people who think that it’s not even available to them. It’s simply not true. It’s available to all. It should be available to all.”

The military joins Parker in his attempts to use diversity to correct hiring woes. According to a report by the US Military paper Stars and Stripes, nearly every branch of the US military has instituted diversity goals into their hiring metrics to bar White men from combat aviator roles. Despite these drastic measures, Black aviators were still on the lower end. A report from the Washington Post revealed that the US Marines retained only 5 Black fighter pilots in 2023, down from 15 in 2000. The US Air Force retains 60 Black fighter pilots and 15 for the Navy, respectively.

A Black female pilot in the cockpit thanks to Sisters of the Sky, one of many programs available which prop up diverse applicants over White ones in the field of civil aviation. Photo: Sisters of the Sky.

Meanwhile, nearly every US military branch has experienced worrying recruitment shortfalls. The news has since triggered plans for various branches to perform sweeping overhauls of their hiring practices, standards, and strategies going into a precarious world stage in 2024.

But the decision to place faith in diversity to fill gaps comes when diverse pilots’ performance is continually questioned by discerning passengers. Incidents of horrific plane crashes, accidents, and needless deaths have increasingly been linked to non-White or Female aviators. In 1994, the Navy’s first female F-14 pilot, Lt. Kara S. Hultgreen, went missing and was presumed dead after her warplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. In 2023, three crew members, including a captain, were killed when a Black South African pilot crashed his plane into a mountainside.

“(Non-Whites) don’t see people that look like themselves that have these jobs in their communities but in a few years they will.”

Doug Parker, Breaking Down Barriers

While White men have shown initiative in pursuing an aviation career, it’s barriers to their entry—not non-Whites or females—that exist to keep them out of the cockpit. In June, leaked emails revealed that institutional pressure was being applied inside the Royal Air Force to keep “useless White male” applicants out of the United Kingdom’s premier fighting force. The decision to deny White men from obtaining these roles coincided with “fast-tracking” women and ethnic minorities instead.

These concerns were apparently shared with leaders across the pond. Citing the death of career criminal George Floyd, retired US Air Force Major General Edward W. Thomas asserted in an op-ed that 86% of Air Force pilots are White, calling it a situation that “needs to be changed.”

“We simply can no longer afford for significant segments of our society to be underrepresented in our U.S. Air Force or our newest branch, the U.S. Space Force,” said Thomas. “…Our goal is to get in front of every demographic group in America and show them someone who wears a flight suit every day they can look up to and say, “That could be me.”

While pro-Black hiring practices have been billed as a way to support so-called “marginalized communities,” some have referred to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as merely anti-White. In 2021, United Airlines announced plans to “shake up white, male-dominated pilot population” by ensuring half of its 5,000 future pilots were composed of Women and “people of color.” In January, a report by the employment website Glassdoor revealed that 1 in 6 hiring managers for American corporations have been instructed to stop hiring White men.

The report went on to claim that “more than half” of recruiters whose companies enforce DEI initiatives somewhat or strongly believe their company is complicit in “reverse discrimination” against White people. In addition, 48% admitted they had been instructed to elevate diversity over merit when choosing an applicant.

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