Aviation has long been led by white male aviators, and there’s more conversation than ever on the importance of making the industry more diverse. According to the FAA’s Aeronautical Center (December 31, 2020 data), women make up 4.6% of United States airline pilots and 2.6% of aviation maintenance technicians. 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that of the country’s 155,000 airline pilots, only 3.4% are black or African-American, 5% Latinx and 2.2% Asian.
LIFT Academy was created to help bridge those gaps, to make aviation more than just a dream–a career attainable for all who are interested in pursuing it through hard work and dedication. We want the cockpit to look like the communities in which we live, allowing those who never thought they would be able to become a commercial airline pilot to reach their goal and fly!
LIFT is working toward a more diverse aviation workforce with the desire to transform the standard pilot training model into one that is more widely attainable and attractive. We offer tuition that is more affordable than other pilot training programs as well as a direct classroom-to-cockpit opportunity with our parent airline, Republic Airways. LIFT has thrown the hangar doors wide open to a world of possibilities for all who thought becoming a pilot was simply not within reach. Does this make you think of someone who could succeed in aviation? Send them our way!
We are proud that our student body is diverse, and we are committed to continue our efforts to be a diverse school and airline. We know our work to make aviation more diverse is just beginning, but we’re proud to have enrollment averages that more than double the national rate of diversity in the industry. Right now our enrollment breakdown of our 255 students is:
We talked with two of our students who are breaking the barriers of diversity in aviation. Jordan Wescott started her flight training at LIFT in March 2021 and is now working on her commercial license, and Severino Alforeza was a Republic Airways employee who started flight training with LIFT in February 2020 and is currently finishing up his multi-engine rating.
What drew you to aviation?
Severino – I was born and raised on a tiny island called Saipan. It’s a beautiful island with an amazing marine environment. Naturally I was drawn to the ocean and actually went to school wanting to be a marine biologist. Time went on, and I found myself in Houston, Texas where my family had moved to from Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific. We were still trying to establish a life here on the mainland, so I looked for a part-time job that would support me and my family financially. So, I started cleaning airplanes, the Embraer 175, for MESA Airlines. And that is really how I got started with the industry. I became a material specialist at MESA and eventually started with a company that opened up a new base in Houston, Republic Airways.
I started at Republic around the same time LIFT Academy was founded. Even then, I still did not have a strong desire to pursue a pilot career in aviation because of ignorance and fear: Ignorance to how people get started their flight training and fear of safety in the workplace, being that I was afraid of the very rare plane crash. I knew I liked traveling, and in fact, I took full advantage of the flight privileges offered at Republic and traveled to 34 countries. I had the travel bug. I knew that for one, I had an amazing opportunity to start training at a brand-new flight school with new airplanes; and two, my coworker had helped to dispel my fears and also encouraged me, reminding me that my ability to learn quickly, determination, bright disposition and grit, would all help me in flight training.
Jordan – I was first drawn to aviation as a kid after attending an air show, where I become absolutely fascinated at how such large objects could get off the ground and stay in the sky. About halfway through college, I decided I didn’t want to work the average 9 to 5 desk job, and that’s when I reached out to a friend who was a flight instructor to take a discovery flight. After that flight. I decided to finish out my degree and start researching ways to pursue a career in aviation!
Who have been your biggest supporters while you pursued aviation? What have they done that has helped you?
Severino – I would say my parents who have been able to support me since the start of my journey in flight training. They have offered both emotional and financial support. My parents are religious, and knowing that they not only pray for me but also continuously encourage me and tell me how proud they are of me and who I am becoming has really helped me push through difficult parts of training and to train even harder.
Jordan – My biggest support system is my family, especially my parents. Although I am a first-generation pilot and many of the things I am learning are foreign to them, they are always encouraging and pushing me to be the best version of myself! Another big part of my support system is the staff, instructors and other students here at LIFT. Whether I need help understanding a concept, picking up open flying or just someone to hang out with and study, there is always someone willing!
Do you think inclusion matters? i.e., Does seeing someone who looks like you achieve something give you motivation to pursue it, too? Why?
Severino – It totally matters! More often than not, when you think of a job or position within the airlines, it is that of a pilot. Growing up, I cannot think of anyone, friends or family, who were in the aviation industry as a pilot. There is a certain prestige that this career carries, and rightfully so. We train intensely to develop into the professionals that the aviation industry needs. It makes me immensely proud that I am becoming one of those professionals. Now hopefully there would be someone from back home, maybe a friend of mine or someone else, who will hear my story and see my progression and successes and know that becoming a commercial airline pilot is attainable for them as well!
Jordan – Yes! I believe inclusion matters in any career, environment or opportunity you want to be part of. Seeing someone that looks like you doing something you want to do gives you that small sense of assurance that you can do it, too, and you belong in that position no matter what the stereotype or norm is or has previously been.
What does diversity mean to you?
Severino – Diversity means that each one of us is unique. We are shaped and molded by the people around us, the environment we grew up in, our cultures, the religion we were raised with or choose to practice and various other factors. There are always benefits from having individuals who can showcase their thoughts and beliefs through their various life experiences, especially if they are different from your own.
Jordan – Diversity to me means embracing, understanding and honoring everyone’s unique differences in a way that allows you to experience people from all walks of life. Embracing individuality and understanding that everyone (including yourself) is different allows you to realize that those differences are what make you so similar in the end.
What value do you think diversity brings to LIFT? To aviation as an industry?
Severino – I believe that diversity means that no matter who you are, or where you come from, you have talents and experiences that can benefit the aviation industry. I am happy that LIFT Academy and the aviation industry have been actively working to put emphasis on diversity. Like I mentioned, being raised in different cultures, a different environment, etc., you carry unique insights and thoughts into how things can be done. It would be amazing to continue to see new students of various minorities add to the LIFT community and feel like this is a place they belong. I know I did!
Jordan – I think that diversity at LIFT and other aviation schools and programs is the start of diversifying the aviation industry in general. Diversity brings value to the aviation industry in that it shows people that anyone can be part of it. For so long, the aviation industry has been dominated by a single demographic, and the only way to change that is to educate people that a career in aviation can and should be for anyone!