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Symposium shows students possibilities in aviation industry

Shades of Blue Aviation partnered with airline industry professionals to help create a pipeline for an industry that's seeing a shortage.

DENVER — The nonprofit Shades of Blue, along with partners from local aerospace agencies, hosted a two-day symposium that culminated Monday to introduce the next generation to a variety of career opportunities in the aviation industry.

Students ages 13 to 21 talked with professionals from United, Delta, Southwest, other airlines and aviation-related organizations about the possibilities in aviation and aerospace.

Capt. Willie L. Daniels II is a retired pilot from United Airlines and is the president and CEO of Shades of Blue. Over his 42-year career at United, he worked himself up to be one of the few Black pilots to fly for the airline. He said the purpose of the symposium was to help create a future workforce in an industry that’s seeing a shortage.

“We’re looking at a worldwide shortage of pilots by 2030 – about 830,000 pilots, 914,000 flight attendants, 769,000 aircraft mechanics and those are just three of the areas,” Daniels said. “We created a pipeline to get the students in at an early age where we monitor, track them and mentor them all the way through college [and] when they come out of college with the credentials they need, we run them right away to our (human resources) departments.”

Credit: Byron Reed
United Airlines Captain Willie L. Daniels II (retired).

According to airline industry projections, airlines will need to hire an average of 14,500 new pilots each year until 2030 to get in front of the shortage. Right now, the United States produces between 5,00 and 7,000 pilots annually.

Daniels said through the symposium, the group is hoping to expose more students, especially students of color, to more career choices to fill these positions.

Credit: Byron Reed

“They have an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, if that individual who looks similar to me can do it, so can I,' " Daniels said. “That’s what the whole purpose of this is all about is to show them that they, too, can be part of this.”

Daniels, who grew up in southern California near Edwards Air Force Base, said he’s had a passion for flying since he was a little kid. He said through the symposium, he wanted to share his excitement of flying to students who attended.

Credit: Byron Reed

“I see a lot of myself in all of them,” Daniels said. “The beauty of all of that is this is a unique opportunity to give the students an option at the early ages of life and when we give them those options now.”

Adrien Smallwood, 17, is an 11th-grader at DSST Byers and who's looking to pursue a career in aerospace engineering. He said the symposium was an opportunity he was waiting for.

“I heard from a lot of people here that really just boost you in that direction,” Smallwood said. “I heard about scholarships, I heard about MSU Denver programs and so those are things that point me in the right direction.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Shades of Blue was founded by Daniels in 2011 with a group of airline pilots, educators and businesspeople who have an interest in aviation and aerospace.  Since its inception in 2011, more than 2,000 students have graduated from its training classes, including one astronaut and 10 airline pilots.

Daniels said the goal over the past two days was to help introduce students to career opportunities available in the field of flight. He hopes this event will help create a future workforce to students following in his footsteps.

Credit: Byron Reed

“A lot of us older retired pilots are now leaving the industry and we need new blood to come in,” Daniels said.  “Because the world is changing and the world is traveling a lot more and that’s what we need, the manpower to fill that need.”

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