By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
Alaska Air Group recently teamed up with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) to offer financial assistance to undergraduate students who want to become commercial airline pilots.
In Maryland, UMES is the only college to offer a 4-year degree program in aviation science. It’s also one of the few historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to offer a professional pilot program. In the new partnership, Alaska Air Group will launch the True North program, which will underwrite the cost of completing advanced flight training for top UMES aviation science students.
“For students, typically, one of the biggest obstacles for them to overcome is financial barriers to career success,” said Yuanwei Jin, chairman of UMES’ engineering and aviation science department.
Alaska Airlines and its regional carrier Horizon Air, which are owned by Alaska Air Group, will continue this program in the ensuing years to continue supporting UMES aviation science students. If chosen for the program, students will work for the university as flight instructors after graduation and then move on to work for one of the airlines for five years.
Sophomore Izaiah Brown wanted to be a pilot since he was a young boy. His mother would take him to BWI’s Thomas A. Dixon Observation area to watch the planes take off and land. The aviation science student has also long been fascinated by the Blue Angels.
While Brown has been fortunate enough to be able to afford flight lessons, he’s witnessed some of his peers drop out of the program because of the high costs. He thinks that the True North program will encourage more people to become commercial pilots.
“It’s a really big opportunity for all of us because it’s basically a ticket to a free job and a free life path,” said Brown. “They’re providing the steps for you.”
Alaska Air Group connected with UMES back in February to discuss the new collaboration in hopes that the airline could recruit a more diverse pool of pilot applicants. Captain Ron Limes, an Alaska Airlines pilot, led the initiative to partner with the university.
When Limes became a pilot, he realized how few of his colleagues looked like him. With the True North program, he hopes that barriers can be removed for Black, Indigenous and people of color pilots to have rewarding careers in aviation.
According to Jin, the airline industry is currently facing a severe shortage of pilots. Programs, like True North, can help airlines discover pilots to hire while also benefiting aviation science students.
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