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Another opportunity from advanced air mobility: A more diverse pilot workforce

A looming wave of pilot hires could help the emerging advanced air mobility industry take needed steps to boost diversity at all levels.
Andrea Cornell headshot

Serves aerospace and defense, air transport, and industrial companies on strategy and growth transformations

Robin Reidel

Leads McKinsey’s Disruptive Aerospace sector globally and co-leads the Advanced Industries Disruptor sector in North America.

Across the globe, today’s commercial aviation pilot workforce is overwhelmingly male; in some locations it is overwhelmingly white. Worldwide, for instance, under 5 percent of commercial pilots are women.1 And in 2018, 91.4 percent of pilots and flight engineers in the United States were white.2 But advanced air mobility (AAM) holds the potential to change this demographic mix by opening pilot roles to a much broader group of applicants at a time when demand outstrips supply. A more diverse workforce would bring a wider range of viewpoints to organizations, and research suggests it could lead to better performance.3

With the growth of AAM, we hope that three factors will potentially contribute to greater diversity among pilots within the industry:

  • The upcoming hiring surge. Demand for pilots of traditional aircraft is surging, and as many as 60,000 more could be required for AAM by 2028. With such high demand, the aviation industry will not be able to find enough pilots unless it looks to a broader talent pool with more racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity.
  • Less intensive training requirements. If regulations change to allow simplified vehicle operations for AAM aircraft, the duration, intensity, and cost of training could decrease. This shift would make pilot jobs feasible for more people, including those who face socio-economic challenges that might otherwise curtail their ability to participate.
  • Geographically contained flight networks. Since the majority of AAM flights will be short hops of ten to a few hundred miles, trips will involve fewer time-zone changes and nights away from home. For people who cannot travel extensively because of family responsibilities or other obligations, pilot roles may now be feasible for the first time.

New AAM pilots may find multiple opportunities, including some that do not exist with traditional aircraft. For instance, they may work as drone operators or remote pilots, provided that both technology and regulations advance.

Within the AAM industry, leaders already recognize their unprecedented opportunity for increasing diversity. “Our aircraft is easy to operate, so the cost for pilot training is very low—which means we’ll be able to open up pilot academies to a diverse population,” said Bonny Simi, head of air operations and people at Joby Aviation, which is developing an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. “Also, our focus is on urban air mobility, which means our pilots will be home every night. It makes for a family-friendly operation. We imagine that the workforce of the future for our aircraft will be very diverse, both in gender and ethnicity.”

The AAM industry may also increase diversity in leadership positions. A recent McKinsey study of more than 60 future air mobility companies found that only 15 percent of leaders are non-male, and only 13 percent are racially diverse. Those percentages are far lower than those in the overall workforce leadership in the US, which is 27 percent non-male and 18 percent racially diverse, and behind the established aerospace and defense industry (24 and 16 percent, respectively).

AAM providers are most likely to broaden the racial, gender, and socioeconomic composition of their pilot workforce if they specifically target underrepresented groups during recruitment. In addition to helping companies satisfy their talent needs, these efforts will open new doors for a vast number of talented people who might otherwise never consider a career as a pilot.

Andrea Cornell is a consultant in McKinsey’s Denver office and Robin Riedel is a partner in the San Francisco office.

1 Sky’s no limit: Redressing the gender imbalance in aviation, Flight Global and CAE, Flight International.
2 Haydee Cuevas, Katie Kirkpatrick, and Lindsay Stevenson, “Racial diversity in aviation,” Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University student works, 2020.
3 Dame Vivian Hunt, Lareina Yee Sara Prince, and Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, “Delivering through diversity,” McKinsey, January 18, 2018.

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