United Aviate Academy Growing Fleet, Student Diversity

 - April 8, 2022, 12:20 PM
United Aviate Academy placed an order in February for 25 SR20 piston singles with options for up to 50 more. (Photo: United Aviate Academy)

United Aviate Academy expects to take its first owned aircraft, a Cirrus Trac SR20, next month as it builds a fleet for its growing flight school that aims to “change the face of aviation.” The academy opened its doors in December to provide a year-long flight training program that will take students from private to multi-engine instructor.

Operating from a 340,000-sq-ft facility at Phoenix Goodyear Airport, the academy has begun training with 25 leased aircraft but made the announcement in February that it was purchasing 25 SR20s and placing options and purchase rights for up to 50 more. The academy is also operating two Piper Seminoles but is evaluating possible multi-engine piston additions, said CEO Dana Donati. Joining the fleet will be seven Frasca simulators.

While the academy is relatively new, Donati said plans have been in the works for some time as parent United Airlines laid plans to build its future workforce. United had acquired the Westwind School of Aeronautics in 2020 at Goodyear to launch the academy.

Pam Williams, director of academy services at United Aviate, added, “United talked about the need for additional pilots because there's a real shortage of pilots in the industry, but also in the industry is the lack of diversity and female pilots.” United has made a commitment to hiring 10,000 pilots over the next 10 years with 50 percent of them being women and people of color, Williams said.

“Part of the pathway into United is the creation of this flight school,” she explained, “and we are intentional about helping in those diversity numbers for United.”

By mid-March, the academy had enrolled its first 106 students, with 51 percent being women and 78 percent racial or ethnic minority, Williams said. The school is adding students into the program at a rate of about 25 to 30 a month, she noted. “We are a full-on fight school with the ability to scale.”

The program has received strong interest—Williams estimated that the school has some 15,000 applications from prospective students.

To get into the academy, students must undergo what Donati described as a “rigorous application process” that includes assessments, an interview, and the completion of the private pilot written exam with an 80 percent or higher. The school particularly is seeking students that are adaptable, coachable, self-starters, and highly motivated, she said. “As long as they have the work ethic and the desire to learn, we're going to be there to support them with all the right resources.” 

The year-long program costs about $70,000, but Donati said scholarships are available. Among the donors are United and JP Morgan, which have collectively offered $2.4 million in financial aid.

Once enrolled in the program, Donati said the curriculum “looks and feels like United.” While it meets the FAA standards, the program has been “elevated to higher standardization because we’re teaching behavior that United wants to see in these students for them to successfully progress throughout their career.”

She cited approaches to checklists and callouts as an example. In addition, the academy has folded upset recovery training into the program.

According to Donati, the first tranche of students who completed their private pilot check rides all passed. “A 100 percent success rate, I would say, is not the normal. So we are doing something right, doing something positive, and our students are working very hard.”

Once they complete the program, the students will have five certificates and ratings in hand and then move on to build time. Donati said students can go home to flight instruct—there are opportunities at the academy itself or other flight schools that are part of the United Aviate “ecosystem”—or they will be able to build time through Part 135 partners. Once they reach the requisite 1,500 hours, students will have an opportunity to apply with the United Express network.

Donati added she was particularly pleased about the response from potential applicants to the school because the academy is a “bold initiative” and the message has gotten across that they are “welcomed into this industry.”