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DSU inks workforce development deal with United Airlines

Katie Tabeling
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United’s Capt. Mike Bonner, Managing Director of United’s Aviate and Pilot Strategy, and DSU President Tony Allen sign the formal agreement that will make it possible for DSU Aviation Professional Pilot students to enter the Aviate Program which establishes a direct path for them to become United Airlines pilots. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE STATE UNIVERSITY

DOVER  — Delaware State University and United Airlines have finalized their agreement that opens the door for students to be trained to fly with a major airliner.

First announced in 2021, the agreement allows DSU Aviation Students the chance to enter United Aviate, United Airlines’ career development program for pilots. As many pilots fly hundreds of hours before progressing to regional and then national airlines, the United Aviate will allow a more streamlined path for DSU graduates.

“Our partnership with United Airlines and their Aviate program has been several years in the making and includes a deep, long-standing partnership with JPMorgan Chase and Regional Market President Tom Horne,” DSU President Tony Allen said in a statement. “Between the three of us, there is an unwavering commitment to build a substantive, inclusive talent pipeline of pilots and Aviation management professionals for many years to come.”

JPMorgan Chase is United Airlines’ credit card partner and Horne asked about the DSU Aviation program. That led Horne to making a call with United Airlines President Brett Hart on the partnership. Both the airliner and JPMorgan Chase are committing $1.2 million in scholarships to the program.

United Airlines is the third-largest airliner in the world and flies out of a large domestic and international route that spans across six continents. Two years ago, United revealed plans to train 5,000 pilots by 2030, with the goal that half will be women or people of color.

To be eligible for the Aviate program, DSU pilot students must complete at least two semesters of full-time coursework or have graduated with a Restricted Air Transport Pilot eligible aviation major, have a private pilot’s license and Federal Aviation Administration medical certificate. The student must also have no more than three primary training failures.

Students who apply to Aviate can also receive a conditional job as a United First Officer, with the opportunity to fly United Express, United’s regional branch that operated in the United States and Canada, or as a Part 135 partner.

Aviation graduates need to complete their flight hours to gain certificates before typically moving on to a regional airline. From there, it can be two to three years before that student is promoted to captain. It may take another seven to 10 years for that pilot to move to a national airline like Southwest or Delta. 

The DSU-United Airlines partnership makes it possible for a DSU graduate to fly with a national airliner while in their 20s, by quickly seeing their careers take off at United.

DSU is one of the first historically Black colleges or universities (HBCU) to offer flight training for Black students, starting in 1939 with civilian pilot programs. Later that year, that program was folded with the Tuskegee Army Air Field, made famous for training the Tuskegee Airmen.

Today, DSU’s program includes 26 aircrafts and recently inked a partnership with the U.S. Army to offer helicopter training. There are 110 students in the aviation program and 47 aviation majors, and six in the helicopter program this academic year. Allen credits Lt. Col. Michael Hales, director of the University’s Aviation Program, for the success.

“Under [his] leadership, our aviation program has grown threefold and is not just the largest in the HBCU Community, but the high-quality, low-cost provider among all aviation programs east of the Mississippi,” the DSU president said.

DSU also joins Elizabeth City State University and Hampton University, both HBCUs, as part of United’s plan to diversify its workforce. 

“We are proud to partner with DSU as their longstanding history of attracting and developing skilled aviators incorporates well into our pilot recruitment strategy,” Aviate and Pilot Strategy Managing Director Capt. Mike Bonner said in a statement. “Current and future DSU aviation students will benefit from this partnership in their journeys to becoming professional pilots.” 

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