African-American women make up less than one percent of the total number of commercial airline pilots. By some estimates, there are fewer than 150 Black women in the U.S. who hold airline pilot, commercial, military, or certified flight instructor licenses.
During Black History Month, Alaska Airlines has signed a pledge to “increase our female African American pilots over the next six years across Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, and support the path to expose and inspire more young women to get there.”
The pledge was signed in partnership with Sisters of the Skies, an aviation nonprofit dedicated to “cultivating and promoting minority women in the industry through scholarship, mentorship, and most of all emotional support.”
Currently, between Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, there are only four black female pilots. By 2025, the airline hopes to quadruple that number.
Hiring more female pilots of color is a challenge perpetuated by lack of visibility, according to Tara Wright, one of the airline’s Black pilots. “We need more support mechanisms in place, so young girls of color see aviation as a viable career path,” Wright said in a statement.
To follow through on its pledge, the airline has laid out a three-prong plan. First, it will establish support mechanisms to “assist in the retention and promotion of existing African American female pilots.” The airline will also enhance programs around education, mentorship and training to help black female pilots earn their certification. The airline will also go into schools and connect with children to try to “generate excitement in aviation.”
“It is also important to study the barriers to women of color getting to the flight deck and pathways to success in their careers,” Alaska Airlines First Officer Kim Ford said in a statement.
The aviation industry is currently operating with a commercial pilot shortage. As Alaska Airlines culls new talent to fill the workforce, it is specifically focusing on increasing diversity among its new hires.
“When we foster an inclusive environment that recognizes, respects, and visibly reflects all people, it makes us stronger,” Andy Schneider, the airline’s vice president of people, said in a statement. “Quite simply, creating an airline people love is not possible unless we walk the talk around diversity and inclusion.”
Last year, Alaska Airlines made history with the first flight operated by two black women pilots.