Sat, Apr

Black pilots, like all pilots, are all qualified!


Right-wing conservative media personalities and the likes of billionaire Elon Musk have questioned the qualifications of Black people, people of color, and women working in the airlines industry.

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By Jason Lewis

A recent mid-air emergency on an Alaska Airlines flight has led some far-right conservatives to question the qualifications of Black pilots.  While the emergency itself did not involve any Black pilots, and the incident has not been linked to any Black, minority, or women airlines employees, that did not stop the likes of billionaire Elon Musk and former President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., from questioning the airlines industry’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs.   

Musk responded to an X (formally Twitter) user who speculated that IQ scores of United Airlines pilots who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were lower than the average IQ scores of Air Force pilots.  Musk’s response changed the DEI acronym to “DIE.”

“It will take an airplane crashing and killing hundreds of people for them to change this crazy policy of DIE,” Musk wrote.

Musk also wrote,” “Do you want to fly in an airplane where they prioritized DEI hiring over your safety? That is actually happening.”

Trump Jr. joined in, referring to a Delta Boeing 757 flight where a wheel fell off while it was preparing to take off.

“I’m sure this has nothing to do with mandated diversity equity and inclusion practices in the airline industry!!!   People are going to die and no one regulating these things give a s***!  Wheels don’t just fall off planes without gross incompetence in the equation!” Trump Jr. wrote.  

Far-right media personalities such as Charlie Kirk, founder and president of the conservative Turning Point USA, which is a nonprofit organization that advocates for conservative policies, and Candace Owens, a Black conservative who routinely criticizes Black people, minorities, and women, have spoken out about Black and women pilots, even though none of these incidents are linked to any pilots.

“If I see a Black pilot, I’m going to be like, ‘Boy I hope he’s qualified,’ Kirk said on his radio show while discussing what he felt were the negative impacts of DEI policies.

Kirk felt policies adopted by major companies regarding ethnic minorities meant less-qualified people were being given jobs with significant responsibility, including airline pilots.

Owens backed up Kirk’s statement, and she included women in the discussion.

“I would be terrified if I got onto a plane and a saw a woman flying the plane,” Owens said.  “And I know that we have the United CEO saying that he just wants to fulfill a quota.  He just wants there to be more Black people.  He’s not concerned at first with qualifications.”

The rhetoric coming from these far-right conservatives has caused outrage, especially among Black pilots.

“They’re (far-right conservatives) making people think about dying,” said Captain Willie Daniels, who was the 34th Black pilot hired in United Airlines’ history.  

Daniels is an expert in this field, as he has been an airline pilot since 1987.  He has logged in over 22,000 hours of flying, and he has flown over 11 million miles.  He was outraged over people who are not in the industry or are aware of the procedures to become a pilot speaking so glib on the subject.

“They’re misinformed,” Daniels said.  “They basically have no idea what it takes to be an airline pilot.  They are not pilots, because if they were, they would understand what’s required to start flying, to get a pilot certificate, a commercial pilot certificate, a multi-engine instructor certificate, and an airlines transport certificate.  The rules, regulations, and procedures are all mandated by law, by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  It doesn’t change for anybody; whether you be a Black pilot, White pilot, Hispanic pilot, or Asian pilot.  Those rules that are governed by the FAA do not change.

“If you ask any of these individuals some of the basic things that I just talked about, they would not have a clue about what I’m even talking about.”

Daniels expressed his dismay that anybody would believe that a major airline would allow somebody who is unqualified to fly a passenger airplane.

“You can bet bottom dollar that United Airlines is not going to put an unqualified person into the cockpit and tell him to go and fly an airplane full of people,” he said.  “When you’re looking at an airplane like a 787 Dreamliner aircraft, that airplane costs about $340 million.  And you put 350 people onboard that airplane, they’re not going to give you the keys to that airplane and let you carry those people’s lives in your hands knowing that you’re going to take off and kill people.”

The insults went beyond the airline industry as Musk questioned the intelligence of HBCU students.

“He (Musk) was one of the ones who spoke about the minority pilots coming out of HBCUs, that they should not be hired by the airlines because of their low IQ,” Daniels said.  “These individuals have no concept of what it takes to become an airline pilot, how many hours that it requires, and what it takes to get there.”

Daniels questions if the far-right conservatives are actually concerned about safety, or if this is just politics.

“When you think of the mentality of a person who would make a statement like that, you have to question their thought processes and their motives,” he said.

Daniels is retired, and he founded Our Shades of Blue Aviation to provide young people with the educational opportunities, training and employment assistance needed to pursue careers in the aviation and aerospace industries.

Captain Willie L. Daniels, II, founder of Shades of Blue Aviation, leads a youth workshop at the Los Angeles International Airport that gives educational opportunities, training and employment assistance needed to pursue careers in the aviation and aerospace industries.

Shades of Blue Aviation has partnered with Community Build, Inc. in South Los Angeles, United Airlines, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and Ontario International Airport to introduce local children to the jobs that they can obtain when they become adults.  The groups have held workshops at LAX, and the students attended workshops that discussed the various careers and how to obtain those jobs.

“We mentor the students, put them in the pipeline, and point them in the right direction,” Daniels said.  “We track them all the way through college, and when they complete college we run their resumes to the HR departments.  We’ve had some students recently who are 25 years of age get hired on.  Now they can make six figures for 40-plus years.  Think about what that does economically for that individual and everybody involved in their lives.”

“United Airlines announced about a year ago that they’re going to be filling about 5,000 pilot seats, half of which will be for people of color,” said Robert Sausedo, president of Community Build, Inc.  “So we’re taking an active role in ensuring that we get at least 1,000 young people in the pipeline to fill those slots.”

While there is a diversity push to hire more Black people and people of color, the goal is to put these people on a path where they can become fully qualified.  

For more information about Our Shades of Blue Aviation, visit www.ourshadesofblue.org/