Captain James Simons, Jr. was named United Airlines’ first African-American region chief pilot for United Airlines Jan. 20, and will lead the Northeastern Region of the world’s largest airline company.
Simons, a United pilot for 22 years, will oversee 1,450 pilots flying for the airline. Beginning in 2007, he served as assistant chief pilot for the Northeast Region, based at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia. The region is one of the airline’s five U.S. divisions, each overseen by a chief pilot.
A member of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), a non-profit founded in 1976 to advance and support minority participation in aviation, Simons also serves on the Governance and Board Development Committee for the organization.
“I appreciate OBAP,” Simons said in a press release. “And I want to get more African Americans into management.”
Simons is a 1978 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in international affairs. In the Air Force, Simons worked as an instructor pilot and was responsible for pilot evaluations in the Combat Training School.
Simons joined United in 1989, and credited all the Black pilots who came before him for making his success possible. Captain Louis Freeman, the first African American pilot to be hired by a major American carrier, began working for Southwest Airlines in 1980, eventually becoming the first Black chief pilot in the country with the same company in 1992. Simons also credited Captain Bill Norwood, who was the first African-American captain to secure a position with United Airlines.
“This is a humbling experience. I learned a lot from Louis Freeman and Bill Norwood,” Simons said in a press release.
In addition to managing the pilots, Simons will also be responsible for pilot scheduling, managing and planning the use of funds not only for Dulles International Airport, but John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport of New York City, Newark Liberty International Airport of New Jersey, Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport, and Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C.
“We are proud of Captain Simons' achievement and applaud United Airlines for its commitment to promoting minority men and women to executive positions in the aviation industry,” Cheryl Chew, Executive Director of OBAP, said in a release.
The Chicago-based United Airlines merged with Continental Airlines in 2011 and employs 86,000 men and women and operates 702 aircraft.