United Zeroing In On Military Pilots as Air Force Tempts Them to Stay

The carrier’s recruiting program targeting active-duty pilots comes as the Air Force faces its own aviator shortfall.

Pilots with the 118th Airlift Squadron, Bradley Air National Guard Base, Connecticut, fly a C-130 Hercules. [Credit: U.S. Air National Guard]

United Airlines is targeting active-duty military pilots as new hires, offering new incentives that include conditional first officer job offers while pilots are still in service.

The development comes as the U.S. Air Force, long facing its own pilot shortfall, continues to grapple with how best to tempt pilots to stay in service, including $50,000 bonuses.

Under the United Military Pilot Program, military pilots don't need an airline transport pilot certificate or flight-hour minimums when they apply, according to the airline. Pilots, however, will need to complete all required training and certification before flying for the airline. Nearly one out of every five pilots employed by United has served or currently serves in the U.S. armed forces, according to the airline.

"Launching this program is a win-win: Our airline gets direct access to some of the best, most talented aviators in the world, and military pilots—and their families—get the time they need to plan their civilian career while still serving," United CEO Scott Kirby said in announcing the program late last week.

Air Force Pilot Shortage

For the military, however, there's no worse time for pilots to leave.

In April, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General David Allvin told Congress that in fiscal 2022 the service branch experienced a net loss of 250 pilots and was 1,900 pilots short of its 21,000 requirement goal.

"Robust airline hiring continues to draw away experienced pilots critical to producing, training, and developing new pilots,” Allvin said during his testimony to lawmakers. “The loss of experience will negatively impact production and retention because this loss is most prevalent in the field grade officer pilot year groups. To improve retention and production, we persistently consider and invest in several monetary and nonmonetary incentive programs to address our aircrew’s quality of life and service concerns." 

Air Force Bonuses

The Air Force launched two bonus plans this year: the Legacy Aviation Bonus Program and the Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Program. Active-duty aviators eligible for the programs had until September 15 to apply.

The Legacy program offered bonuses up to $50,000 for certain groups of aviators, including traditional pilots, those operating remotely piloted aircraft, air battle managers, and combat systems officers in exchange for commitments to remain on active duty. The Demonstration program offered incentives of $50,000 a year for pilots with Undergraduate Flying Training (UFT) Active Duty Service Commitments (ADSC) expiring in fiscal years 2024 or 2025.

"The two programs target two distinct population sets," an Air Force spokesperson told FLYING. "Select aviators are only eligible for one of the two programs. The Legacy program targets those whose initial Undergraduate Flying Training (UFT) [has] expired, while the Demo program targets those who are still serving their initial UFT ADSC."

“Retaining our experienced aviators is key to succeeding in a war-fighting environment,” Brigadier General Kirsten Aguilar, Air Force force management policy director, said when the service announced the latter program in August. “The Demo program helps posture the Air Force to reliably retain aviators to meet current and future operational requirements.”

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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