Women's History Month: 'Sisters of the Skies' aims to close diversity gap in aviation

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Women make up about 5% of pilots in the United States, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and there are even fewer Black women in the industry.

Now, one organization is taking aim at the lack of diversity on the flight deck, breaking down barriers and developing a sisterhood to help build the next generation of female pilots.

Sixteen-year-old Goretti Muriithi is soaring toward a dream she's had for as long as she can remember.

"They were always the thing I looked out for when I looked up in the sky," she said.

She is one of 12 aviation students working to get their pilot licenses at Eagle Flight Squadron in East Orange, New Jersey.

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"Eagle Flight is giving people like us in these local communities an opportunity to fly an airplane and get exposure," Muriithi said

And that will hopefully help close a gap in the aviation industry. According to Sisters of the Skies -- an organization of professional Black female pilots -- less than 1% of pilots in the US are Black women.

"For us to be in 2021, it is kind of a shock," said Monique Grayson, a member of the organization and a first officer with Delta Airlines.

Her interest in planes took off when she was 12 years old, but she hit some financial turbulence in flight school.

"I remember telling my dad we were blowing through so much money," she said. "I was really skeptical about it."

But she knew nothing else fueled her as much as flying, and her dad knew it too.

"He said if that's the case, count it as an investment," she said.

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Now, 10 years in the profession, she still navigates some challenges as a Black woman.

"I've had some of our co-workers assumed that I was something other than a pilot" she said.

That's why representation matters, she says. The cost and time it takes to train are also barriers to the industry.

"The initial license the nation average is about $10,000, and that's just for your first your private pilot's license or certificate," Sisters of the Skies founder Angel Hughes said.

Hughes is a graduate of the Eagle Flight Squadron and founded Sisters of the Skies to build the next generation of women in aviation.

"We really capitalize, prioritize on community outreach," she said. "We offer scholarships, we go to the career days, we make sure we're in our uniform."

And that's because sometimes, seeing is believing.

Airlines say they are committed to improving diversity within their ranks.

CLICK HERE for more information on Sisters of the Skies, and HERE for more on Eagle Flight Squadron.

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