Feb. 10, 2021

Shanita Polk didn’t set out to break new ground in business aviation. In fact, until she enrolled in a college that happened to have an aviation program, becoming a pilot had never entered her mind. But today, as a Part 135 pilot, Polk is one of the few Black women in a business aviation cockpit, pioneering a path for others.

“I do feel unusual,” said Polk, who is currently flying right seat in a Cessna Citation Excel for flyExclusive charter operator and aircraft management company. “A lot of captains have never flown with a Black female pilot.” Because of the example she sets, Polk feels a certain pressure to perform at as high a level as possible. “I am always conscious of bringing my’ A’ game,” she noted.

Polk credits the support of her mother, two encouraging flight instructors – one of them also a person of color – and her colleagues in the Sisters of the Skies organization for providing the guidance and encouragement that she has needed along her career path.

Rather than being furloughed due to the COVID-19 downturn, Polk chose to take a leave of absence from a regional airline that she had been flying for. She is pleased with the benefits of Part 135 flying, including a reasonable days on/days off schedule that allows her to spend more time with her 5-year-old son. She is also enjoying the variety of destinations that she is now getting to visit.

Prior to joining the regional carrier, Polk flew a Cessna 206 for an aerial mapping company and had several stints as a flight instructor.

Polk understands her relative uniqueness in the aviation industry and makes it a point to speak to students at career days, especially at her former schools in Chicago, where she grew up. She also tries to mentor other young women of color in aviation, and doesn’t have to search hard to find mentees or schools to speak to: “I often have people reaching out to me,” she said.