Senior Air Force officials said Wednesday that the U.S. will face a 700 fighter pilot shortage by the end of the year, a gap that is expected to grow as pilots opt for more lucrative and less stressful careers.
WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – Senior Air Force officials said Wednesday that the U.S. will face a 700 fighter pilot shortage by the end of the year, a gap driven by pilots opting for more lucrative and less stressful careers.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said during a Pentagon news conference athat the military is increasingly competing with commercial airlines for pilots.
“The airlines are forecasted to be hiring a lot more. They already are,” said James.
Goldfein noted that “airlines have been in hiring mode before.”
The officials said they are working on a plan to increase the retention bonus to get pilots to stay longer. James said beginning Oct. 1 the Air Force is planning to pay drone pilots a $35,000 a year retention bonus to encourage them to stay in the service at the end of their active-duty service commitment, up from $25,000.
“I believe it’s a crisis: air superiority is not an American birthright. It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain,” said Goldfein.
“And so, when we take a look at the number of the — what the Air Force does for the nation, which at the — at the foundational level is to gain control of and then exploit air and space, we’ve got to have all of our aviators that are able to do that, and specifically fighter pilots because they’re the ones that are leaving at a higher rate.”
Goldfein said pilot pay is only part of the problem. He tied in retention with what he called “quality of service.”
“Quality of service is about being the very best you can be at whatever profession you’ve chosen within the Air Force or any other service,” said Goldfein. “And the reality is, pilots who don’t fly, maintainers who don’t maintain, controllers who don’t control are not going to stay with the company because we’re not allowing them to be the very best they can be.”
The officials said the Air Force plans to identify two locations for additional training units to increase the number of F-16 pilots.
Amid two decades of air wars that are increasingly reliant on drones, James said the pilots face the stress of “frequent deployments, a lot of family separation.”
Despite this shortage, the officials said that the three air wars against the ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya have not been affected.
Lee warned against Congress passing continuing resolution instead of a new appropriations package. A continuing resolution would lock the service into last year’s spending levels, marking $1.3 billion less in funding than the fiscal 2017 budget requests.