RPA officer incentive-pay to increase to $35K

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Congress has ordered the Air Force to increase aviation incentive pay for officers flying Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) from $25,000 to $35,000.

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Congress passed Nov. 10 after President Barack Obama vetoed the first version, also includes an amendment ordering the Air Force to send it a report on RPA manning and on plans to fix any under-manning problems.

Obama signed the revised 2016 NDAA on Wednesday.

These moves come as the RPA community is under strain to fly surveillance and combat missions all over the world.

“In an effort to support the NDAA, the 163 ATKW (163rd Attack Wing, California Air National Guard, March Air Reserve Base) is surging its Formal Training Unit by 30 percent to meet the demand for Remotely Piloted Aircraft crews,” Col. Dana Hessheimer, 163 ATKW commander wrote in an email. “Manning continues to be an issue, and hopefully the bonuses will help us retain our highly experienced Airmen.”

The Air Force is also considering

the possibility of allowing enlisted Airmen to fly RPAs and is expected to announce its decision early next year.

The Air Force has 60 days after the NDAA’s enactment to submit the RPA manning report, including:

An account of how many RPA Airmen the Air Force has now and how many it needs, in addition to projections on future staffing and requirements.

A comparison of RPA units’ personnel policies, manpower-authorization levels and projected personnel inventory with that of manned combat aircraft systems and units.

A description, with a timeline, of what it would take to get RPA career field authorizations and manning levels to at least the normal manning and readiness levels of all other combat-aircraft career fields.

A list of what the Air Force is doing to increase RPA unit manning levels — such as offering recruitment and retention bonuses, incentive pay, allowing enlisted Airmen to fly RPAs and increasing the weighting of RPA personnel on promotion boards — plus an assessment of those strategies’ effectiveness.

An assessment of the Air Force’s capability to train new RPA personnel to meet demands.

An analysis of the requirements that determine how RPA pilots and sensor operators are selected, such as what prerequisite training or experience is necessary.

MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots became eligible for retention bonuses worth up to $135,000 beginning this fiscal year, the Air Force said in July. And to help beef up the ranks of the RPA pilots, the Air Force in August started steering 80 undergraduate pilot-training graduates directly into RPA squadrons, instead of manned aircraft.

The Air Force also reduced the number of daily RPA combat air patrols from 65 to 60 as part of an effort to lessen the strain on pilots.

(Linda Welz, 452 AMW/PA contributed to this story)