United Airlines Opens Its First Flight School

Aviate Academy will train approximately 500 pilots per year

United Aviate Academy

Courtesy of United Airlines, Inc.

Pandemic problems aside, airlines in the United States are facing a major issue: There's currently a massive shortage of pilots, which is only expected to get worse over the next decade. To help combat that, United Airlines has launched United Aviate Academy, a flight school located outside Phoenix, Arizona. It's the only of the major U.S. airlines to have its own school.

The year-long Aviate Academy scheme starts students on the path to earning their private pilot's license, after which the pilots will then interview to enter United's broader Aviate program. That program provides the infrastructure to earn further certification over the next two or three years as pilots progress towards the ranking of first officer with United.

A new class will launch every month—with the goal of training approximately 500 students annually and a total of 5,000 by 2030—but competition is fierce to enter the academy. For the inaugural class, the 59 pilots were selected from a pool of 9,600 applicants.

"Our pilots are the best in the industry and have set a high standard of excellence," said United CEO Scott Kirby. "Recruiting and training even more people who have that same level of talent, motivation, and skill is the right thing to do and will make us an even better airline. I couldn't be prouder of this first group of students and look forward to meeting the thousands of talented individuals who will pass through these doors in the years to come."

Given that the path to becoming a licensed pilot for a major airline is a long and expensive one—flight training takes 1,500 hours and costs around $100,000—it's no surprise that many would-be pilots aren't able to make the commitment. But through Aviate, United aims to streamline the process, and has even teamed up with JP Morgan Chase to fund about $2.4 million in scholarships.

What's more, United plans to boost diversity within the industry through this program. The inaugural class is 80 percent women or people of color, a far cry from the current statistics of licensed pilots: only 5.3 percent of pilots are women and 7 percent are people of color, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“As a United pilot for more than 32 years, it's exciting to see these new students earning their wings and beginning their aviation careers, and I’m looking forward to them joining me on the flight deck one day,” United chief pilot Mary Ann Schaffer, said in a statement. “We need more pilots and a more diverse pool of young aviators, and United Aviate Academy will help us achieve both goals.”

Article Sources
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  1. Bloomberg. "A Shortage of Pilots Looms as the Next Challenge for Airlines." September 21, 2021.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Labor Force Statistics From the Current Population Survey." Retrieved on January 31, 2022.