Twenty-one year old Xylene DeCoteau is a Certified Flight Instructor who aspires to be a commercial airline pilot. DeCoteau’s mother, who was a flight attendant, sparked her interest in pursuing a career in the aviation industry. Originally, DeCoteau wanted to be a flight attendant like her mother. However, after doing more research and participating in a flight demonstration she “found a college and went for it,” she says.
Despite the lack of diversity in the aviation industry, DeCoteau, a Black woman, is defying the odds in her pursuit of a career as a pilot. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2019 that only 3 % of U.S. commercial airline pilots were Black. The numbers are even worse for Black women. They make up fewer than 1% of all pilots in America, according to Sisters of the Skies.
DeCoteau has a multi-ethnic background. She was born in New York, but her dad is Trinidadian and her mother is Jamaican. Her family was apprehensive at first about her decision to pursue a career as a pilot, but have always supported her. DeCoteau says when her family moved to the United States “no one really had the opportunity to invest in their life entirely…my family is really proud to see that I put something to use and I’m working hard.”
DeCoteau hopes that she can help to change the racial disparity in the aviation industry by inspiring others. “Kids growing up…I don’t think they see enough pilots and kids in minority neighborhoods only want to become what they think is possible.”
She also hopes that the industry finds ways to offer more financial support because it is so expensive. “Becoming a pilot is not considered a job for colleges it’s actually considered a hobby so when applying for a school loan it can’t apply to flying.” This makes it harder for those with less financial resources to get a loan in pursuit of a career in aviation.
DeCoteau is passionate about helping those who are interested in the aviation industry. “Before I came to college, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to or answer my questions.” Instead, she had to rely on her college professors at Vaughn College who helped her along the way.
She says she would encourage aspiring pilots to go to flight school rather than focus on receiving a degree in aviation. DeCoteau says the only benefit a bachelor’s degree offers is the ability to get hired sooner by an airline. An applicant with a bachelor’s degree only needs 1000 hours of flying time, rather than 1500 hours. This benefit does not outweigh the high cost of college, she says.
“Also, if something like a pandemic happens again it will help if you have a degree in something other than aviation. I would recommend getting a degree in engineering while still going to a flight school because it’s going to make you way more versatile.”
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, jobs in the aviation industry have been severely limited. Currently, DeCoteau said she is searching for flight instructor jobs at different schools to build the last 700 hours of flight time she needs to be eligible to apply as an airline pilot. She said she is not giving up on her dream to become a commercial airline pilot and is “hopeful for a better future.”