Delaware State becomes first HBCU to join United Airlines pilot program

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Delaware State University Aviation graduates will have a direct path to becoming a pilot with a major airline through a new affiliated partnership between the institution and United Airlines.

The university and United celebrated the new partnership during a ceremony at the Delaware Airpark, home to the university’s aviation program. The event was also attended by nine alumni who are now United Airlines pilots.

(L-r) Tom Horne, Delaware Market President, JP Morgan Chase, who connected DSU with United Airlines; Lt. Col. (retired) Michael Hales, director of the DSU Aviation Program; Mary Ann Schaffer, United Airlines Systems Chief Pilot; and Del State President Tony Allen gather for a photo after the event.

Through their Aviate Academy — the only aviation school operated by a major airline in the U.S. – United plans to train 5,000 new pilots by 2030 – with the goal that at least 50 percent of the number being women or people of color.

United and other airlines will need to find pilots to replace those who will retire in the coming years, even with fewer planes flying due to the pandemic.

Aviate will be working closely to establish relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities as another source of underrepresented pilots. Delaware State University was selected as their first partner.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to build our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in 2021 and beyond,” said Brett Hart, president of United Airlines. “Inspired by the Aviate motto “Love to fly, born to lead,’ we look forward to working side by side with our partners at Delaware State University, and we welcome the next generation of aviators to the flight deck.”

University President Dr. Tony Allen praised the program.

“When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, you cannot hope for better. You have to do better,” said Allen. “That starts with leadership and partnership. As the No. 1 provider of pilots of color in the country, we’re proud of United’s leadership and excited about the partnership.”

Mary Ann Schaffe, United’s Systems Chief Pilot, recounted her not-so-direct career path and noted how the Aviate Program would give Del State Aviation students a more direct path to become United Airlines pilots.

“Aviate provides that path for (DSU students) to follow; you’ll know what that next step is going to be,” Schaffer said. “That is what this partnership between Aviate and Delaware State University will provide for you, so you can see that future.”

Most DSUAviation Program graduates work as flight instructors to build up their total flight hours, fly for smaller regional airlines, and then later seek employment with a major airline. For many graduates, the partnership between United Airlines and the University will streamline that career path.

“It’s a huge incentive for future students to choose Delaware State University and its Aviation Program as their choice for an education,” said Lt. Col. Michael Hales, director of the university’s Aviation Program. “Before this, we could only say that our graduates will step into a career as a Professional Pilot at some airline. Now we can say that our graduates’ career is most likely to be with United Airlines.”

Delaware State University established its Aviation Program in 1987. There are currently 127 students enrolled in the Aviation degree program, focusing on either the Professional Pilot or Aviation Management concentrations. The program has a fleet of 22 planes and a team of 15 instructors who are based at the Delaware Airpark in Cheswold, about 10 minutes from the University’s main campus.

United has also finalized partnerships with two other HBCUs – Elizabeth City State University and Hampton University.

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