Alaska Airlines
Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

Alaska Airlines Pledges to Hire More Black Female Pilots by 2025

Citing that black female pilots comprise of only one half of one percent of all professional pilots in the commercial aviation industry, Alaska Airlines has pledged to hire more of them by the year 2025.

Alaska Airlines Pledges to Hire More Black Female Pilots by 2025

In an effort to address the lack of diversity of pilots in aviation and “support the path to expose and inspire more young women to” become pilots, a new pledge between Alaska Airlines and Sisters of the Skies — which is a nonprofit organization committed to pilot diversity — aims to increase its count of “female African American pilots over the next six years across Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air” from the four currently employed by the airlines.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a pool of qualified African American women ready to be hired. And creating this pool takes time”, according to this article which was posted at the official weblog of Alaska Airlines. “With a commercial pilot shortage, it’s imperative we cultivate talent in our communities. And regardless of a shortage, it is important to build a workforce of incredible opportunity that is accessible to all.”

The article continues with “The Sisters of the Skies approach to promoting pilot diversity — supporting current pilots through mentorship and encouragement, and increasing the number of future pilots with models and mentors, exposure and training — is consistent with how Alaska approaches creating opportunity.”

Taken verbatim from the aforementioned article, Alaska Airlines will honor its pledge by:

  • Having support mechanisms in place to assist in the retention and promotion of existing African American female pilots currently working on mainline aircraft in either pilot seat.
  • Enhancing processes and programs that provide education, mentorship, training and scholarships to developing African American female pilots from non-certificated pilots to Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)-certificated pilots through programs such as Solo Flight Academy and Girls Rock Wings.
  • Connecting with kids to generate excitement in aviation and models in our own pilots, through efforts like Alaska Airlines Aviation Day, the Michael P. Anderson program and Amelia’s Club.


Although I would certainly encourage anyone of any race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation and other attributes to become a pilot for a commercial airline — if that is indeed his or her dream and passion and if he or she works hard to meet all of the strict qualifications — I oppose the idea of any company or governmental organization placing priority to any of those attributes as a deliberate part of the hiring process when considering candidates, as I believe doing so is equally as discriminatory as refusing to consider hiring anyone based on those same factors.

Part of the problem is stereotype when people initially envision a pilot. Virtually every movie, commercial and television series depicts a commercial airline pilot as a white male who is between 45 and 65 years old with “salt-and-pepper” hair. Using the classic movie Airplane as an example, Robert Hays, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves and Robert Stack were all cast as pilots and former pilots — not Diahann Carroll, Barbara McNair, Eartha Kitt or Nichelle Nichols.

Few professions can get away with hiring based on the aforementioned attributes. As an actor part time, for example, I know I would obviously never be cast in a movie for the role of Martin Luther King, Junior — and rightfully so — but I was cast as a white African fiancé in a short film called But Mamah, and that was fun.

Organizations such as Sisters of the Skies should absolutely encourage black women to become pilots — but what about potential candidates who are Hispanic, Indian, Asian, or gay, Lesbian and transgender? Should they not be encouraged as well?

In my opinion, the hiring process for commercial aviation — as well as many other professions, for that matter — should be blind to skin color and other attributes and concentrate squarely on such factors as education, knowledge, experience, personality traits and passion. I know that I would want to be hired based on those factors and what I bring to the position — and not based on the color of my skin, my religion, my age or my gender.

In other words, true diversity should occur organically through training and encouragement — but not be forced.

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Knowing the number of political correctness bullies who troll Boardingarea, I suspect you will get some pushback for what you wrote, but not from me.

    I’ve seen this in academia: College X wants more black students for the sake of diversity, so it admits more black students. College X has increased its own diversity but hasn’t done anything to increase the pool of black students. It has merely stolen black applicants from other colleges.

    You can see this line of thinking in Alaska’s announcement. Alaska is going to make a small token effort to get minority girls interested in aviation. Then it is going to meet its diversity goals by doing a better job of preventing other airlines from hiring away it’s minority women pilots. I’m all in favor of retention bonuses for good employees, but let’s not pretend that increases the applicant pool.

  2. There seem to be some assumptions here that need addressing. First off, neither the pilots’ union nor the airline would tolerate lowering the minimum qualifications for any aspiring pilot as this would cause an enormous liability risk on behalf the airline. Imagine a black female first officer butchering a landing and causing death or injury and then finding out that the pilot had been hired below minimum standards. It’s an absurd premise. That’s just for starters. Secondly, there is a decades and decades old established pecking order in the pilots groups that is inviolable – the seniority list. Not that it hasn’t been tried. In fact, back in the late 1990s an African American pilot from the Blue Angels group, Donnie Cochran (you can google him) went on a barnstorming tour of major airlines advocating for the hiring of qualified black pilots directly into the captain seat…right off the street. These efforts were rejected out of hand for obvious reasons and this type of scenario would never take place given that the seniority list is the holy grail of arbiters for all manner of perks and pay in the industry. This idea never, ever got off the ground.

    So let’s get this straight: any black women pilots hired would need to play by the same rules as any other pilot. Now, could there be lowered minimums, or guaranteed interviews, for certain prospective pilots who may have served as an intern at the potential hiring airline? Of course. And I’ve seen that. But never lowered minimums that would potentially be unsafe. The whole intent of intern and co-op programs is that you are giving potential pilots a 3- or 6-month virtual interview because they are working for you throughout their internships.

    No. This isn’t about lowering standards. This is MUCH more about exposing women to the opportunities available by pursuing an aviation career. This is a non-traditional career for women, and as Brian has aptly pointed out, often stereotyped as a men’s club in the sky. Nothing wrong with recognizing there is a significant shortage of pilots on the horizon and specifically targeting traditionally overlooked potential talent pools. In fact, it’s good business. And as for identifying gay or Mexican or left-handed pilots? Nothing is stopping any advocacy group from partnering with airlines to do such a thing. In fact, I would say again, it’s good business. Black females pushing for black female pilots is no different than people who have known cancer victims who then donate only to cancer research. Do we call them out for advocating for a cause for which they are passionate? Or how about referral programs in place at most major companies that put resumes at the top of the pile if they’ve been recommended by an internal resource (a source usually passionate about getting a qualified friend, family member, or acquaintance on the property). There are all forms of advocacy that don’t even sniff the lower boundaries of forced hiring.

    I would hazard that the most vocal opponents of such a strategy would be white males. As if this is some sort of assault on a industry that we have some God-given right to dominate. As we always have. Or that some sad sack minority pilot might be sitting next to me sharing the flight deck because of some maligned affirmative action program. Well, I am a white male. And if you think I’m a liberal then you are hilariously off the mark…a complete non-starter. I see this as a good business decision. Expose minority groups that have never been tapped as potential candidates to the appeal of a great profession that is going into a hiring crisis for qualified candidates. Make sure there are welcoming support systems for them at the airline even BEFORE exposing them to the opportunities so they feel a culture of welcoming. Set up career pathing that shows them a direct route from the military or ab initio flight schools right up the right seat of an airline. And hold them accountable for meeting all historic entrance requirements.

    Having your potential pool of qualified pilots double, triple, or more, because you’ve become “pro-active” about mining untapped potential talent in the minority communities is good business. I ran Delta’s flight operations intern program for two years. We NEVER lowered the standards for our minority applicants. HOWEVER, we did target, in addition to the traditional flight schools of Embry-Riddle and Purdue and Ohio State, traditional black colleges and watched our intern program grow exponentially as word spread that we had a robust program that GUARANTEED interviews for pilots who came through our program and were successful. I’m proud to say that I know of several who now fly for Delta and keep in touch with me. We were on the leading edge, literally, of our intern program development and had zero affirmative action goals. We just knew it made long-terms sense to dig deeper and wider into the field of potential applicants. Our goal was to turn our intern program into a pro-active recruiting tool. And again, that was then, as it is today, just good business.

    If I ran the pilot recruiting department for an airline and tapped someone with solving the potential pilot shortage pro-actively and that person came back to me and said “well, I don’t see any reason to change the way we’ve done things in the past” I would look at that person dead in the eye and ask “that’s the best you can do?” But if that person said “hey, let’s partner with minority advocacy groups; let’s broaden our vision on our prospective recruits by targeting traditionally ignored talent pools, and let’s intentionally set up welcoming groups that partner successful internal candidates, e.g., successful minority pilots already on the payroll, with potential pilot candidates early on in their journey” I would smile and say “job well done.”

    Blind Squirrel

  3. Good for you Brian. I am an orthodox Jew and I’ve never seen a pilot wearing a yarmulke and it doesn’t bother me one little bit. I know one Jewish pilot (although I know that El Al obviously has many but unfortunately I don’t get to fly with them very often). Like you said, pilots should be chosen for their skill. If the pilot happens to be black and female and is doing the job because she is qualified, that’s great, but nobody in ANY profession should be selected because of their skin color, gender and especially not because of their sexual preferences which should never have been allowed to have become relevant in the workplace.

  4. Well said, BMG.
    Once society starts (and it has) in this silly proposition, it leads to chaos.
    Where are the Chinese-American or Polish-American pilots ? A long time ago President Theodore Roosevelt made fun of these…”hyphenated-Americans”

    Where are the quadriplegic Mexican-American pilots? Oh, and how about the mentally-challenged pilots? We can’t discriminate, you know?
    Get outta my face.
    This politically correct world has gone nuts.

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