USAF Hasn’t Made Much Progress in Reducing Pilot Shortage

Young people between the ages of 18-33 are urged to apply.

Air Force pilot climbs aboard a T-38
An Air Force pilot climbs aboard a T-38 before a training flight.USAF Tech. Sgt. Erik Cardenas

If you’ve ever considered learning to fly through one of the branches of the US military, men and women between the ages of 18 and 33 with a bachelor’s degree might find the US Air Force welcoming them with open arms. Air Force officials last week told members of the House Armed Services subcommittee that at the end of fiscal 2019 in October, the service was still short 2,100 pilots of the 21,000 needed to execute the National Defense Strategy, according to a story in the Air Force Times. The shortage first became apparent in early fall 2016. Since then, the service’s production rate has not kept pace with pilots leaving, barely reaching the 1,300 mark annually over the past few years despite a number of recruitment enhancements. The AFT quoted written testimony from acting Under-Secretary of the Air Force Shon Manasco, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Steve Wilson, and Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson said, “Recruiting, developing and retaining aviators remains a significant challenge.”

The Air Force initially hoped that increasing retention bonuses for fighter pilots by 40 percent—paid out at $35,000 annually—might convince them to remain with the service another 13 years until retirement but even that has not had the planned effect.

The service blamed relentless hiring by US airlines as one of the primary reasons for the shortage, as well as a lack of available Air Force aircraft and civilian flight simulator instructors. The Air Force hopes increasing the number of new aviators in the pilot training pipeline will be the best solution to the pilot shortage problem. The service’s fiscal 2021 budget includes significant dollar increases to fund new recruitment, the Air Force Times said.