First African American named chief pilot for United Airlines – the world's largest airline

Captain James Simon, Jr. is a Board Member of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals

Chicago, IL ( –United Airlines, the world’s largest airline, has named an African American chief pilot of one its five U.S. regions. Captain James Simons, Jr., a United Airlines pilot for 22 years, will manage 1,450 pilots for the Chicago-based airline’s Northeast Region, which is headquartered at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va. He is a member of the board of directors of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP).

“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,” said Cheryl Chew, Executive Director of OBAP. Captain Simons serves on the board’s Governance and Board Development Committee.

“I appreciate OBAP,” said Captain Simons. “And I want to get more African Americans into management.”

Captain Simons will manage pilots at Dulles, John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York City, Newark Liberty International Airport, Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport, and Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C.

As chief pilot, he is also responsible for preparing the Northeast Region’s budget and adjusting pilots’ schedules. He also works with the region’s airport station chiefs and interacts with the Federal Aviation Administration. Before his promotion, Captain Simons was assistant chief pilot for the Northeast Region since 2007.

He succeeds Captain Walt Clark, who took a new position at United’s headquarters. “He was a great mentor, who believed in providing equal opportunity and a diverse environment,” Captain Simons said.

United Airlines’ other regions are Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago and the Northwest Region.

In an interview regarding he said his promotion is a major honor, and praised other black pilots who opened the doors for him to move into management at United Airlines. “This is a humbling experience. I learned a lot from Louis Freeman and Bill Norwood,” Captain Simons said.

Captain Freeman, former chief pilot for Southwest Airlines, was the first African American named to that position at a major U.S. carrier. Norwood was the first African-American captain hired by United Airlines. He retired from United in 1996 after career of more than 30 years.

Captain Simons, the son of an Air Force veteran, graduated in 1978 from the United States Air Force Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in international affairs. While in the Air Force, he was an instructor pilot and an evaluator pilot at the Combat Training School. In 1989, United Airlines hired him as a pilot.

United Airlines merged with the former Continental Airlines in November 2011 making it the largest airline in the world with 86,000 employees and second largest with 702 aircraft. Its largest hub is George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX. Captain Simons is based in Virginia during the week and joins his wife Judith in Houston on weekends. The couple has two daughters and a grandson.

About Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP)

OBAP is a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to enhance, advance, and promote educational opportunities in aviation. From the outset OBAP has focused its greatest emphasis on preparing young people to realize a successful future and highlight the exciting potential available in aviation. To be certain of an aviation oriented group representing African-American and Minority concerns was neither new nor unique. Years earlier the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. and Black Wings in Aviation had been formed with similar goals and both continue to be very active today. OBAP’s unique approach to the concept was to build on the progress made in the military and general aviation arenas by expanding the cause within the airline industry.

Photo Caption: Captain James Simons, Jr.