United Airlines to open flight school later this year in hiring push, plans to increase diversity

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A pilot walks by United Airlines planes as they sit parked at gates at San Francisco International Airport on April 12, 2020 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

United Airlines started accepting applications for its flight academy on Tuesday, part of a push to hire 10,000 pilots by 2030 as more of its aviators reach the federally mandated retirement age of 65.

The airline announced in February 2020 that it bought a flight school, but the Covid pandemic forced it to put training plans on hold. United is now resuming plans to refill pilot ranks and prepare for growth as travel demand returns. Last week, it said it will start hiring pilots again, starting with 300 candidates whose hiring process was halted by the pandemic.

United’s flight school is meant to provide training to pilots with little-to-no experience. United said it wants to train 5,000 pilots and aims for half of them to be women and people of color. Just over 7% of United’s more than 12,000 pilots are women and 13% are people of color, United said.

The first class of 20 pilots will begin in the third quarter with a graduation date sometime in the first half of 2022, United said.

United and other airlines have ramped up pilot recruitment in recent years. Students will be able to apply for United’s Aviate recruiting program, which extends conditional job offers to candidates as they build up experience during training and working at smaller carriers. It could take a student about five years from starting flight school until reaching a job at United.

United declined to say how much the flight academy would cost students but said it would fund $1.2 million in scholarships “to break down the financial barriers that limited access to the airline pilot career path for generations of women and people of color. JPMorgan Chase said it will provide another $1.2 million in scholarships to help increase diversity.

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