This article was written on the cusp of the three-day US Memorial Day weekend. With perfect timing, the author received a rich mix of e-content on Friday morning of the weekend, solidifying some previous conclusions: the US military faces challenges in recruiting, training and retaining qualified individuals across their branches, and the US aviation industry has shortfalls of pilots, maintenance personnel and other professionals. The reality this Memorial Day weekend 2024 remains the US Defense Department and the nation’s aviation community continue to compete for qualified individuals from the same talent pools – with no end in sight. 

Showering Bonuses and Other Inducements on Some Branches 

CAT’s companion department, MS&T has reported, the US military services face challenges in meeting recruiting and retention goals. In the last several fiscal years, the services have attempted to “show the money” to aviators, submariners and others in high demand career fields in terms of hefty bonuses and such. Most recently the Air Force offered large bonuses worth up to $600,000 to its experienced aviators to continue flying as the service continued to face a yearslong pilot shortage. As MS&T heard during this winter’s congressional testimony sessions to begin the FY2025 DoD Budget cycle, military civilian and uniformed leaders are focused like a laser to meet their present fiscal year recruiting numbers.  

Providing Stiff Recruiting Competition 

In the adjacent commercial airline sector, the author was reminded this weekend of several focused efforts to attract qualified former military pilots and maintenance personnel.  

A blog from Southwest Airlines noted three of SWA’s initiatives impacting veterans and those in the service: 

  • Warrior Hire Program: Started in 2018 and throughout the years, more than 40 Southwest Warrior Hires have successfully transitioned and received the full support of technical and career skill training, along with a "battle buddy" from a previous class, a transition mentor, and direct guidance from the Warrior Hire Steering Committee;
  • Destination 225° Military Pathway: Launched in 2019 with other pathways for those interested in pursuing their dreams as a commercial Pilot. This pathway in the Destination 225° program provides the transitional bridge for current or aspiring aviators with military flying experience to pursue a Pilot career at Southwest; and 
  • Military@SWA ERG: Introduced in 2023 as an opportunity to provide a community of support and camaraderie by connecting military veterans and their Cohearts with resources to help them reach their full potential and fulfill their career aspirations.

An Alaska Airlines posting stated “the Maintenance and Engineering Division with Alaska Airlines utilizes that latest aircraft maintenance technology, giving each mechanic convenient access to the information that keeps us flying safely.” The Maintenance and Engineering Division has been recognized for a number of achievements, including its “focus on veteran and military employment, proudly supporting veterans from all branches, including the US Air Force and the Marine Corps.” 

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The US commercial aviation industry continues to have shortages of qualified pilots, maintainers and other professionals. Sources/credit: US Navy/Wadelon Presley.

Bringing All Resources to Bear

This spring, Soufiane El Ouartassi, Product Marketing Manager at CAE, told WATS 2024 delegates there will be a global demand for 1.3 million new pilots, aviation maintainers and cabin crew members in the next 10 years. The executive initially justified his projection by dividing the demand for the three professions as follows: 284,000 (commercial and business) pilots; 402,000 (commercial and business) maintainers; and 599,000 (commercial) cabin crew members.

The US airline subgroup in the referenced, attention-getting CAE study is using innovation and time-tested strategies to obtain more qualified professionals, including pilots and maintenance personnel. While airlines will compete head-to-head with the military services for qualified individuals, they are also using a mix of new- and previous efforts, including increasing STEM programs’ reach to younger elementary-level students and offering more scholarships to aspiring professionals. There will be no one solution to meet air carriers’ personnel shortages.     

CAT and MS&T will continue to follow and comment on the US military and US aviation communities’ stepped-up efforts to attract and retain more qualified individuals.     

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