In the late 1960s, the television show Star Trek (aka, The Original Series) showed us our future; the diversity of the human race in a professional environment: The (White) Captain; First Officer/Science Officer (Alien); Pilot (Asian); Navigator (Russian); Communications Officer (Black Woman); Engineer (European) and Physician (Southern Doctor). These characters interacted every week; they displayed how these different folks could work together towards common goals. Even the villains and antagonists were interracial men and women, so no group escaped praise or being booed or hissed at. What made the show so appealing was that race and gender played no part in any character’s qualifications or the storylines; each character was qualified to do their job. As Star Trek played out for the next half century in spinoffs and movies, the diversity factor never quit; Captains, Bridge staff, Chief Engineers, Medical and Security personnel were all represented by each race and gender, again, because these characters were qualified to hold their positions in the show. Even aliens were both racial and gender blind.
According to an April 13, 2021, Washington Post article, “… [Unnamed] Airlines said last week that it had set a goal to train 5,000 new pilots, at least half of them women or people of color, at its new flight school over the next decade.” The article goes on saying that this will improve safety.
How disingenuous for an airline that is now focused less on safety and more on theater. The article revealed a ‘woke’ airline management’s trivial agenda. More importantly, the airline set a dangerous precedent. Question: How does one reconcile hiring practices based on skin color and gender – to aviation safety?
The aviation industry is diverse; the Facts, e.g., applications, seniority lists, training records, can prove that out. For those who understand this, Facts are not necessary. A few less informed (inexperienced?) individuals commented on the airline’s announcement, praising the airline’s ‘brave move’, by comparing non-safety sensitive occupations, like tech company managers, to pilots; they likened someone who sits at a desk in a large office to a pilot who flies multimillion-dollar aircraft … full of people. The airline’s ‘woke’ practice was lost on many aviation enthusiasts; these individuals put political correctness first, the flying public’s welfare, second. For these people, no Facts will ever be enough.
And then there were the head-scratching comments, such as the pilot of many decades and (allegedly) former air operator manager who commented that in his X number of years in the cockpit, he saw many pilots with ‘borderline’ quality – and that no one spoke up. He continued by saying that “… as more women and people of color occupy the cockpit, the safety profile will improve”.
And there lies the rub. The first problem with this gentleman’s statement was that he saw many pilots with questionable skills in the cockpit and … that no one spoke up??? Did he speak up? As a member of management, was the welfare of the flying public not his responsibility too? Those ‘borderline’ pilots lacking in flying skills, whether white, black, green or purple, should have been trained harder or given a non-safety position in the company. That is Airline Management and Safety 101.
But then he said that “… as more women and people of color occupy the cockpit, the safety profile will improve.” How does one square that circle? How does an airline’s safety profile improve when the racial or gender numbers change? How does one equate Aviation Safety to the quantity of melanin in one’s skin and/or how many X chromosomes one has? Does that even make sense?
This speaks volumes to how meaningless the airline’s announcement was. It obviously appealed to some shortsighted political correctness warriors. Perhaps they feel the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should require operators to focus on diversity instead of safety. Maybe the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) should revamp its critical mission; spearhead industry studies that direct more women away from running tech companies to running air cargo. Perchance the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Commerce, Defense, etc. will refocus on diversification instead of wasting time on safety, security and wellbeing.
Over these last few years as each new politically correct concept took center stage, companies fell over themselves to be seen as in line with each new concept, as if the topic du jour was foremost on every American’s mind. The problem is that with each politically correct concept – aka Distraction – someone else becomes the new target: the police, the military, political parties, religious groups, age groups and, of course, people of certain race or gender. We become numb; it becomes easier to ignore the static, to allow the bullhorns to blare and the sarcasm to fly. Question: Is airline management that bored that they now waste our time with self-served posturing? Weren’t their post-COVID Stimulus payouts large enough?
To serious aviation folks: Is there a gender or racial problem to begin with? One could ask the airlines, since they suggested that diversity numbers were a problem, what are the actual ratios? Maybe, the numbers are not as bleak as the progressive airline makes them out to be. The FAA, as an unbiased source, could get those numbers. That way, America can go back to the important issues.
My perspective: For almost four decades I rode the cockpit jumpseat of various airlines, whether I was flying to fix one of my airline’s broken jets in the field or as an FAA inspector conducting enroute inspections. Throughout those four decades, I have flown with pilots of both genders; sat and talked shop with flight crews – both in the cockpit and in the cabin – of every known race. As an FAA and NTSB instructor, I taught pilots who were sister and brother; husband and wife; parent and child. The pilots I have known flew everything, from a Cessna Citation to a Bombardier Dash 8 to a DC10 wide body, both Parts 121 and 135. Lots of pilots; lots of diversity. So, is diversity even a problem these days?
On social media in March, how many all-female flight crews were celebrated; all black female flight crews; all Asian flight crews; mother and daughter flight crews. I am confused by these postings. Why? Because I see them all the time … every single day. No one cares anymore who has three-striped epaulets and who has four. These sights are the norm, not the exception. The airline industry is diverse – and safe – because it uses qualified individuals. The FAA and the NTSB are diverse, only because they hire professionals for their skills. Diversity results from these hiring practices; it does not cause them.
Diversity is subjective, it is open to interpretation. Safety is specific; something is either safe or it is not. What would be considered a diverse pilot group? When I was a hiring supervisor, we were tasked to hire as diverse a workforce as possible. The problem was the job drew mostly white guys in the airport I worked at. How do you hire to diversity when diverse populations do not apply? Should we alter the interview process; should we interview for diversity or for skill and experience?
When I went to airframe and powerplant school in New York City, the breakout of students in my class were: two women, one Asian guy, two Black guys and the rest were White guys. I attended on loans, State and Federal assistance because I was broke. Public transportation and major highways were very close. Everybody tested to be enrolled. How would diversity be forced into such a situation?
The question still remains: What does Diversity have to do with Safety? How does requiring an equal racial ratio or gender ratio make an airline safe to fly? How does racial equality across the mechanic workforce guarantee safe aircraft? Air Traffic Control? When a pilot, mechanic or controller works on their training and developing their skills, it is not to check a political box. It is to assure the persons in those positions are qualified. Would any airline suggest that, to keep the racial and gender numbers even, they would drag everyone across the finish line, equally? Compromise the qualifications? What about the people who cannot make the grade, pass the flight school; would the airlines fail them? Would their pilot financial investments result in failing those unqualified or pass everybody with a wink-and-a-nudge?
What effect would Diversity have on safety? Hiring for Diversity would negatively affect safety … period!
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” The picture above is from a 1969 Star Trek episode called ‘Let This Be Your Last Battlefield’. Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio played Bele and Lokai, respectively, two citizens of the planet, Cheron who were prejudiced against each other. In one memorable scene, Captain Kirk and Mister Spock tried to comprehend why the two Cherons hated each other. The Cherons said that, though both were half black/half white, the black and white sides were reversed on Bele and Lokai. Kirk and Spock still did not grasp the hate. The Cherons thought Kirk and Spock were fools for not seeing the racial disparity that they saw. But it was the prejudiced Cherons who were the ones obsessed with pushing racial divides. Sound familiar?
Americans have come through decades of faults and, along the way, each generation has corrected for the faults of the former. Women hold many influential jobs and powerful positions. Both genders of all races are prominent in every industry; it is hard to remember when it was otherwise. Yet some people agitate; they must stir up old bigotries; pick at the scabs; insist on seeing bias where bias does not exist. Their Emotions blind them to Facts. But, maybe the agitators are the bigots, finding racism in the aviation industry where it does not exist; placing Diversity over Safety. In aviation, Diversity is not the problem. Instead, making diversity a problem … IS the problem. And doing that to aviation safety sets up a dangerous precedent.