Each year, hundreds of thousands of aviation fans and pilots touch down in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture show. With daily events and exhilarating aerobatic performers, EAA AirVenture draws spectators from around the world, and this year, United Airlines brought some future pilots along for the ride.
On July 26, United employees and students from the Tuskegee NEXT Foundation, AeroStars, and United Summer Associates took off from Chicago O’Hare aboard a brand-new Boeing 737 MAX 8. As part of this special flight, students had the opportunity to learn about aviation up close and enjoy all that EAA AirVenture had to offer with some of the students flying for the very first time. Team members from Aviate, United’s industry-leading pilot career development program, and pilots enrolled in Aviate educate these students and other attendees about the paths to becoming an airline pilot.
“What we’re trying to do is open up this career field,” says Curtis Brunjes, Managing Director of Aviate and Pilot Strategy. “The youth that are looking for a way to get to United Airlines have an avenue to do that through the programs that are being developed today. We’ve made a very deep commitment to diversity, and we want to make this opportunity available to everyone.”
United has a significant need for pilots—more than 10,000 in the next decade—and is finding new and innovative ways to recruit and develop a high-quality, highly diverse pipeline of future pilots. While at EAA AirVenture, United participated in EAA’s announcement of AeroEducate, a program designed to cultivate interest in aviation among young people ages 5 to 18.
In addition to the Aviate pilot development program, United also recently launched the United Aviate Academy (UAA), a wholly owned flight school in Phoenix, Arizona. At UAA, United will train 5,000 new pilots by 2030, at least half of whom will be women and people of color, and offer full-time flight training, mentorship, and financial aid.
By providing opportunities to diverse and talented candidates through the Aviate program, United is creating a clear pathway to a professional pilot career. The airline is also breaking down financial barriers by launching a $2.4 million scholarship program, in partnership with JPMorgan Chase, to help ensure no one is turned away solely because they can’t afford to enroll.
“It’s great to connect with so many people who are interested in careers in aviation,” says Mitchell Rufer, a Senior Program Manager for Aviate. “A lot of times, they see the barriers to becoming a pilot, like the expense, but with Aviate, regardless of their background, we’re showing them they can chase and achieve their dreams.”
United and Boeing also hosted a panel discussion with several United pilots who shared their individual journeys to the flight deck and gave students advice on how to pursue their goals.
“Making these connections now and breaking down those barriers is so important,” says United First Officer KP Kirkpatrick. “Find your passion and make it your purpose.”
The crew of the 737 MAX 8 also served as inspiration for the students and other young aviators throughout the day.
“I love the thrill of everyone visiting and being excited about United,” says Kristin Schroeder-Ward, a United flight attendant of 30 years who provided tours of the new 737MAX8. “I hope to give a little bit of a spark to the kids here today. We all have this common love for aviation, and I want them to see that I’m passionate about what I do.”
At the end of the day, as the employees and students soared out of Oshkosh, that passion was shared by everyone on board.
“United has a commitment not only to many of you on this airplane, but also to youth around the world who want to join this exciting profession,” Bryan Quigley, Senior Vice President of Flight Operations, said on the flight. “The future is bright for everybody that’s interested in an aviation position at United Airlines.”