The United States Air Force (USAF) is undergoing three initiatives to address the growing pilot shortage.
The first is to increase aviation incentive pay, or flight pay, for officers and enlisted pilots. Starting on October 1, 2017, this is the first flight pay increase since 1999.
The second initiative expands the Aviation Bonus Program to include non-contracted and contract-expired pilots that began August 4, 2017. The third initiative began on August 11, 2017, bringing back the rated return to active duty program, which returns retired pilots to service to fill critical-rated staff positions.
“We need to retain our experienced pilots and these are some examples of how we’re working to do that,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “We can’t afford not to compensate our talented aviators at a time when airlines are hiring unprecedented numbers.”
Wilson is referring to a collection of plans various airlines are putting into place to address their own pilot shortages. In 2016, United Airlines and Lufthansa partnered to create the Career Path Program to give prospective employees an easier pathway to work, and that same year the Ithaca Airport won a $620,000 New York State Infrastructure grant to build a new flight academy building to train more pilots, both according to Civil Aviation Training. These are only two of many initiatives.
However, within the U.S. Air Force itself, the military branch was 1,555 pilots short at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, which includes 1,211 fighter pilots. This deficit is expected to grow.
“The Air Force’s fiscal year 2017 Aviation Bonus take rates have been lower than what the Air Force needs,” said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. “The bonus is now being offered to a larger pool of pilots that includes those beyond their initial service commitments who have previously declined to sign long-term bonus contracts and those whose contracts have expired.”
The aviation incentive pay increase encourages pilots to stay on, and as they increase in experience, so does their incentive pay up to an additional $1,000 a month. Similarly, the USAF is increasing the critical skills incentive pay for enlisted flight crews, giving them up to an additional $600 per month.
VRRAD, of Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty program, is opening its doors to 25 retired 11x volunteers. Those selected will return to active duty for up to 12 months, filling critical-rated staff positions, keeping current and qualified pilots in operational units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.
“Secretary Wilson and I are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure we maintain that capability for the nation. We continue to swing away at this issue and we're looking at multiple options to improve both quality of life and quality of service for our pilots,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.