U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson recently told a Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee that the branch trained 1,160 new pilots in fiscal 2017, and expects to train 1,311 in fiscal 2019, before expanding further. The Air Force wants to train 1,500 new pilots each year by fiscal 2022 as part of its effort to solve its troubling shortage of aviators. Increased pilot training capacity will become even more important as the Air Force seeks to increase its number of operational squadrons from 312 to 386 by the end of 2030.
The Air Force said it’s taken several steps to try and improve air crew’s quality of life and quality of service, one of the problems that leads some aviators to leave the Air Force. Wilson highlighted efforts to reduce operating tempos, revitalize squadrons and restore support staff so air crew can concentrate on flying, as well as generous incentive pay and bonuses. But, Wilson said, “retention efforts alone will not solve the aircrew shortage,” leading the Air Force to beef up its training capacity. The Air Force is still testing a fly-only” technical track for interested airmen, and giving air crew greater input on assignments.
The service is also focusing on fixing readiness in the 204 operational squadrons that would be most important in a high-end fight. The Secretary told lawmakers that restoring readiness must be a top priority of the Air Force. By the end of 2020, she said the Air Force hopes 80 percent of those units will have the right number of properly trained and equipped airmen. Two years later, she hopes 80 percent of all 312 operational squadrons will be ready.
The Air Force has also made significant progress in cutting the maintainer shortage, Wilson said. Two years ago, the Air Force was short 4,000 maintainers, but by December, that gap is expected to be completely eliminated. The Air Force’s work on maintenance isn’t done however. Wilson said these new, green maintainers must be seasoned until they have enough experience to handle more complicated or unsupervised work.