Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force manpower, personnel and services deputy chief of staff, testified on the pilot shortage before the House Armed Services subcommittee on Military Personnel in Washington, D.C., March 29, 2017.
At the end of fiscal year 2016, the total force made up of the active duty, reserve and guard, was short 1,555 pilots across all mission areas. The Air Force is addressing the aircrew crisis via monetary and non-monetary initiatives in three main areas: pilot production, reduction of demand for pilots in non-flying positions, and retention.
According to Grosso, the primary drivers for the shortage of pilots are the high operational tempo across the last 26 years, and the commercial industry demand for Air Force pilots.
“The Air Force is committed to a holistic strategy to maintain our pilot inventory as we face external and internal challenges,” she said.
Part of the holistic effort to increase retention of seasoned pilots is raising the aviation bonus to $35,000 a year; the first increase in 18 years.
“Through a tiered business case analysis we will identify areas of greatest need to retain pilots in exchange for a commitment beyond their initial service commitment,” she said.
The increase in available bonus was approved in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017. The actual bonus levels are determined by considering current and projected manning, current and projected retention levels, replacement training costs, and replacement training time, which are the same factors used to determine all bonus needs across the Air Force.
The importance of the retention bonus is that it directly relates to building the trust with Airmen by buying time while the Air Force works to further improve quality of life issues in the aviation community, she explained.
Another effort to remedy the shortage includes reducing additional duties, the elimination of non-mission-essential training courses and outsourcing select routine administrative tasks in operational squadrons to give aviators more time to focus on flying, Grosso added.
The deputy testified that the Air Force is also exploring options that allow aviators to work for commercial airlines through the Career Intermission Program. This is the program that allows Airmen to take a break in service to meet personal or professional needs.
“We are also starting to look at, can we allow aviators to fly part time on their own,” she continued. “I think those are just two ideas, and there are many more.”
“The Air Force reduced the number of pilots filling operational planning positions in order to prioritize manning at flying squadrons,” Grosso said. “We are also leveraging our total force partners to bolster staff in operational planning positions, deployments and in training units as appropriate.”
This effort to improve manning at the squadrons directly correlates with the Air Force Chief of Staff focus area number one, revitalizing the squadron.