CHICAGO – Gabrielle Harding knew at age 15 that she wanted to become an airline pilot.

For the past 14 years, she has worked for one of the biggest airlines in the world, United, where she is considered a rising star. 

“So far in my journey of having flown a 737, 777, the Boeing 787 has by far been the most fun aircraft I’ve flown to date,” Harding said.

Harding credits the Girl’s Scout for sending her to space camp and the Tuskegee Airmen Detroit chapter for taking her on the plane ride that launched her dream of becoming a pilot.

Gabrielle Harding

“It’s exposure, it’s exposing people to the fact that they can join this career and become an airline pilot,” she said.

According to a 2020 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5.6% of pilots and flight engineers are women. Five percent of female pilots and flight engineers are Hispanic; 3.4% are Black. 

United Airlines hopes to diversify the cockpit. 

The airline, whose headquarters reside in Chicago, has pledged to train 5,000 new pilots by 2030 at its Aviate Academy flight school.

Half of the attendees will be women and people of color.  

“I’m delighted,” said Ken Rapier, an airline transport pilot and the Chicago DODO chapter president for Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated. He told WGN he knows firsthand how hard it is to become a pilot. 

A hiring freeze was instituted just as he was set to enter the final interview phase with the airline. While he was never hired, he applauded United for its pledge.

“You have to see it to achieve it,” he said.

Harding says there’s no better career, especially because of the perks of the job.

“It’s definitely a lucrative career and you get to meet interesting people and learn a lot about different cultures because you get to experience them firsthand,” she said.

Candidates do not have to have flying experience. And because the school is an expensive endeavor, over $2 million in scholarship money is being made available.

Additionally, United will partner with three historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to recruit talent. To apply for United’s Aviate Academy flight school, click here.

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