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Billionaires Feud Over Airline Pilot Hiring

Elon Musk and Mark Cuban took to Twitter/X to debate the ethicality of some airline hiring policies.

A United 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Airline hiring policies were thrust into the limelight earlier this week as billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Cuban debated their ethicality over Twitter/X. Specifically discussing so-called ‘DEI’ – or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – policies, the exchange began with Musk opining about these policies.

“DEI is just another word for racism. Shame on anyone who uses it,” he said in a January 3 Tweet. Cuban responded with a long-winded post in support of these policies.

In a Tweet, Cuban responded to Musk, saying, “Having a workforce that is diverse and representative of your stakeholders is good for business.”

The two – along with other platform users – continued their DEI spat over several days. Musk even went as far as suggesting that these policies contributed to recent production issues at Boeing.

Airlines Take Center Stage

On January 7, one Twitter/X user seemingly mocked Cuban’s beliefs, sharing a 2021 Daily Wire article titled ‘United Airlines Says It Wants 50% Of Pilots Trained In Next Decade To Be Women Or People Of Color.’

Musk responded to this post adding, “The airline industry can’t find enough qualified pilots even without insane DEI requirements!”

Major U.S. airlines hired just over 12,000 new pilots last year, a six percent decrease from 2022. United – which operates the Aviate Academy that was the target of the feud – hired over 2,300 pilots in 2023. The airline’s academy trains approximately 500 students per year. In an April 2021 press release, the airline set a target of 5,000 new pilots by 2030 with ‘at least 50% women or people of color.’

“Over the next decade, United will train 5,000 pilots who will be guaranteed a job with United, after they complete the requirements of the Aviate program – and our plan is for half of them to be women and people of color,” said United CEO Scott Kirby in the 2021 press release. “We’re excited that JPMorgan Chase has agreed to support our work to diversify our pilot ranks and create new opportunities for thousands of women and people of color who want to pursue a career in aviation.”

Cuban took to Twitter/X again to refute Musk’s claim saying, “This is a training school. Once they graduate, it’s a multi year process to have an OPPORTUNITY to pilot for United.”

“Since I’m a nice guy and want you to be fully informed, I’ll share with you the benefit of the 60 seconds I spent looking for how the program works. BTW, looks like multiple layers of merit based evaluations before they can fly for United…,” Cuban continued in a Tweet.

In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively struck down the use of affirmative action policies at colleges and universities. 

Over 96% of U.S.-based pilots are male, while 85% are White, according to career data site Zippia.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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