US Air Force Introduces ‘Aviation Bonus Program’ To Tackle Fighter Pilot Shortage

The US Air Force (USAF) has been battling with pilot shortages now for a number of years. At the end of the fiscal year for 2015, there was a deficit of 511 operational fighter pilots, with this figure rising to nearly 750 by 2016. But what are the key drivers behind this? LOSS OF PILOTS TO COMMERCIAL 

A key factor behind the falling retention figures of experienced fighter pilots in the USAF, is the alluring career pathway presented by commercial flying.

Commercial companies are able to offer pilots higher pay, better benefits, and lower stress flying conditions, than the military. As the commercial sector grows, and the globe become increasingly connected via flight paths, so too has the necessity for commercial pilots. In line with this, it is expected that commercial hiring rates are only going to increase over the next 20 years, along with the available pay and benefits.

Because of this, recent trends show pilots are making the switch from military to commercial flying earlier and earlier in their careers. Not only is this reducing the number of pilots available to the Air Force, but the actual pilots being lost are those with the skills and experience necessary for leading the next generation of fighters.

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A further issue has been the growth in use of unmanned, or remotely controlled, assets.

Drone warfare and surveillance missions have increased within US Airforce strategies over the past decade. To operate said systems and missions, the military often relies on the skills and experience of fighter pilots. The use of US Air Force pilots to carry out these missions has therefore been largely done at the expense of manned fighter jet communities, reducing availability of active fighter pilots.

At the end of the fiscal year for 2015, there was a deficit of 511 operational fighter pilots, with this figure rising to nearly 750 by 2016.

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There are clear barriers to the recruitment and retention of pilots for the USAF and global Air Forces more widely. To try and address these issues for the USAF, the Air Force is promoting three core developmental concepts: reducing requirements for fighter pilots, increasing production of new fighter pilots, and increasing retention of current pilots.

For the USAF, a major announcement in relation to this has been the introduction of the Aviation Bonus Program as part of the fiscal year for 2017. This programme sets out an increase in the amount of maximum bonus available to pilots, with figures reportedly rising from $25,000 to $35,000. It is hoped that through this, the Air Force will be able to better hold on to those pilots who may have been previously lured away by financial commercial incentives.

Questions remain as to whether this increased bonus will be enough on its own to turn the tide. Further measures relating to deployment times, funding, training, and work-life balance, can all be improved in the pursuit of pilot retention.

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