United Airlines supports future Black pilots in Houston schools to grow representation in aviation

Briana Conner Image
Monday, February 19, 2024
Black History Month: United A. supports future Black pilots at Sterling Aviation Early College HS and Texas Southern University
For Black History Month, ABC13 is looking into the lack of representation in aviation and exploring how Houston organizations are working to solve it.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- This Black History Month, ABC13 is focusing on representation in aviation. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, less than 4% of pilots in the U.S. are Black.

In 1963, Marlon Green took his fight to become a commercial pilot all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices' landmark decision in his favor helped dismantle racial discrimination in the passenger airline industry.

American Airlines hired David E. Harris, helping him become the first African-American pilot of a major airline in the following year. Continental Airlines hired Green in 1965. Since then, the number of Black pilots transporting passengers in the skies has remained stubbornly low.

Helon Hammond with United Airlines told Eyewitness News that exposure is key. United partners with and supports Sterling Aviation Early College High School and the aviation program at Texas Southern University to help African Americans see aviation as a viable career path. That translates into money and mentorship.

"Not only do we give our money, that mentorship is important. We have 50 employees that go long and hard and keep up with them and expose them to that, Hammond said. "Just two years ago, we had 150 college students right here that had a burning in their belly to work in aviation and had never stepped foot on an aircraft. We gave them their first flight. We took them behind the scenes and let them know everything that is possible and all the things available to them."

Despite recent cultural backlash to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Hammond said those values are necessary in the air. FAA standards for pilots are non-negotiable and the same across the board.

"The key is to continue to educate," Hammond said. "Diversity is important to create that innovation like problem-solving skills, and there's no way around that. We continue to educate that the requirements are the requirements, and we have some of the best pilots in the industry. They are highly qualified, and they must maintain their training irrespective of race or ethnicity."

Anyone interested in breaking into the aviation industry can consider the careers with United available here.

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