Air Force combats pilot shortage with big payments

The service is offering annual bonuses of up to $25,000 to stop aircrew members from leaving for commercial airlines.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 23, 2013 7:17AM

F-16's from the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center fly in formation during a test mission (© HIGH-G Productions/Stocktrek Images)The U.S. Air Force is looking for a few good men and women -- to keep flying for their country. A shortage of qualified aviators, especially fighter jocks, is prompting the service to offer lucrative incentives to some eligible, active-duty pilots.

Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, the Air Force's policy-mobility forces chief, says the 2013 version of the Aviator Retention Pay Program is meant to keep aircrew members at a fraction of the cost the service would otherwise incur to train new, rated officers.

It provides eligible pilots and combat systems officers with annual incentive payments of anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 -- "with some categories eligible for 50% up front" -- in exchange for active duty service commitments.

"The program has significantly changed to target specific rated categories expected to be critical to new mission growth and inventory shortages," Rubio said late last month on the Air Force website. "In addition, we preserve a fully ready cadre of aircrew officers, eliminating years of necessary tempering and experience.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Air Force expects to be down about 200 fighter pilots this year, and its retention rates are lower compared to previous years.

The median salary for Air Force pilots, by the time they complete their 11th year, is around $90,000, and many are being lured away by commercial airlines -- where median wages for pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers hover above $103,000.

In a report issued last year, Boeing (BA) projected an "unprecedented" demand for airline pilots -- with about 460,000 new commercial pilots needed by 2031 "as global economies expand and airlines take delivery of tens of thousands of new commercial airplanes."

Along with those better-paying jobs in the commercial sector, Air Force officials told the Times other factors are also behind their pilots' departures -- including the stresses of military life, multiple redeployments to combat zones and the rising use of unmanned, remote-controlled drones.

In fact, says the Times, the surge in drone technology recently forced the Air Force to permanently reassign more than 150 fighter pilots to controlling "remotely piloted aircraft" -- but given the rising pilot shortage, that practice has recently stopped.

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Jul 23, 2013 8:51AM

it's gotta be crushing to a jet fighter pilot to be asigned to flying an RC plane.


meanwhile, the US armed forces train the pilots that Boeing and other airliner companies then take full advantage of. 

Jul 23, 2013 11:09AM
The drone work could be outsourced to almost any 14 year old boy.  They've spent thousands of hours sitting behind a computer console blowing crap up all over the planet - and trust me they're unbeatable!
Jul 23, 2013 12:42PM
Spent 24 years in the Air Force. My motivation was certainly not the money. Gives you a warm feeling to know that we now have to motivate with a buck to encourage service to our country.
Jul 23, 2013 2:57PM
I miss the Air-force... i should never have left early (Desert Storm Vet) I didn't realize we would be fighting for another 25 years in the same region. I thought we did our job... I though being a civilian would be full filling again.... it wasn't ... its chaos...  I Would have retired last year... this economy is shaky !!! very unbalanced... My son just finished college.... the only steady opportunity seems to be the AF... He constantly looks at my photos.... remembers the base assignments and how we traveled... I can't blame the kid... it stabilized our home and financial security. I always feel blessed I served when I did and took advantage of all of the experiences and opportunity. My health care , the advancement... job experience, diversity of people from all races..... yeah.. I "aimed high" and was a lot better off because of that decision. I received a $30k signing bonus back half ....then the rest on my anniversary yearly over 6 years. There is nothing like flying... especially a $40 million jet.  anybody else "drive" anything that expensive? lol... nothing is the same after that life. I know I appreciate everything with a bit more humility and grace. 
Jul 23, 2013 1:31PM

Even in 7th grade all I ever wanted to be was a AF piolet, but once I was in a highschool I started doing alittle research. Drones were beginning to come out and about then. So I thought long and hard decided college first. I am 24 now and still to this day I wish I was flying for the AF. It's not about money for me.

Jul 23, 2013 12:52PM
Maybe we should pay our soldiers a real salary so we won't have to give billions to companies like Black Water.
Jul 23, 2013 10:19AM

assignment to a drone program is a BIG factor for rated officers.  we don't want that career change.  it's worse than a pentagon assignment!   stay true, stay blue, be vigiliant!

Jul 23, 2013 1:48PM
Does the $90,000. include their housing allowance that the civilian pilots don't get. Does it include their subsistence allowance that the civilian pilots don't get.  Dose it include their free medical care for tem and their families including dental that civilians do not have.  How about their thirty days annual vacation.  Do not forget the fifty per cent retirement after 20 years for the rest of their lives, the retirement alone is more then most working Americans earn a year.
Jul 23, 2013 1:20PM
Sorry veterans of the past Air Force, its not our Air Force anymore.With the sex scandals,Officers not being qualified for the position. Like the Viet Nam work, was fought from the pentgone with no actual in country experience. But were the ones promoted and the veterans of Nam was tossed into the big hate pot of the nation. Some carrers were cut short, because they showed guts to be a leader..Some Officers I would have followed to the end of the earth, some were just that don't bother me or my carres. To much politics in the military now...Pilots were never paid only by pay grade and flight pay and still made a family life, but that took a toll on them...If you are a pilot you should be earning just the same as an airline pilot always did think that, if the government will stop wasting the monies we would have a good AF,but not like when I was there...Pilots keep the dirty side down... 
Jul 23, 2013 11:24AM
And maybe if they could have a decent family life without spending half of it in some stupid useless war.
Jul 23, 2013 3:42PM
What about the ground troops or the enlisted men/woman who support those aircraft. The number of enlisted killed compared to pilots (Officers) is much higher but we will give the pilots more money. How dumb can we be.
Jul 23, 2013 11:45AM
A shortage of combat pilots. This is made to order for Obama.
Jul 23, 2013 2:58PM
Maybe we could outsource it like we do every other job.  Get the Chinese, Indians or Mexicans to fly for us at a fraction of the cost of what we pay for a US born pilot...Sad part is that some idiot in Washington has probably already thought this up and is pursuing it.  Hell the drone pilots could easily be outsourced to another country
Jul 28, 2013 2:18PM

Hogwash, The military is only paying 25K? I was offered that back in 1979 to re-up for 4 more yrs. and that in today's dollar amount is roughly 35K. And who said the average  fighter pilot makes 90k? What planet are you living on?  To make 90k a yr. as a pilot in the military you would have to be at least  a Colonel (06) which is one level below a 1 Star Brigadier General with 12yrs of service. By the time you reach that grade level they are pushing you out of a plane and behind a DESK!  Oh and I forgot to mention the crummy $225 pay for Hostile Fire/ Imminent Danger pay. Paid healthcare ? Have you visited a VA Hospital lately? You get far better care at a Veterinary free clinic for homeless animals! Lets talk about base housing...If it was rated like hotels, 1 to 5 stars it would owe points!

And retirement? After 20 years of service how does 1200 a month sound? Some people on welfare collect 50k a year with all benefits. Is it no wonder Pilots decide to leave after being insulted with a 25k retention payment? It's far time the military pays members at least 50% what their private sector counterparts make. I was shocked when I looked up the pay scale for 2013. I'm glad I left when I did or else I would have ended up losing $48,000 a year on top of base pay for 11yrs. to hit 20yrs.

Jul 23, 2013 5:46PM

Yes, our brave men an women in the military deserve much needed raises. Last year, $348+ billion was spent on illegal immigrants most of whom will eventually commit crimes and land in jail. Why, why, why? The money must be spent on those who protect our freedom not on those who make the middle class pay more on taxes, by bearing children they can't afford to raise, and worst children who score very low in mathematics and science.

Jul 23, 2013 3:44PM
Very simple hit my twenty years get a nice pension and then go and make more money in the civilian sector and retire with a nice pension. Not hard to figure out why they are leaving the service it is economics I can make 150000 + combined or I can make 90000 total most people go where the money is.
Jul 24, 2013 1:00PM
This is crap.  The FAA let's me fly passengers all over the world, yet the air force won't take me because of a minor color vision deficiency.  My deficiency only affects my ability to pass certain (not all) tests, and the ones the air force allows I can't pass.  I have no real world issues with the colors used in aviation.  The Navy would let me fly jets too, and the airlines let me fly their jumbo's, just not the air force.  Stop being so needlessly discriminative of candidates, and I would have went that route.  But I won't join an organization that won't let me fly because of a few circled patterns with numbers in the middle, even though I've flown some of the most complex aircraft in the most challenging conditions in the world.

Jul 23, 2013 1:33PM
thats pilot** smart phones not so smart.
Jul 25, 2013 4:55PM
The Air Force is being cheap, back in the 1980's the Navy was paying up front bonuses of $36K for a 6 year obligation for pilots to stay on rather than go to commercial airlines.
Jul 23, 2013 7:02PM

The USAF may train them, but to keep them past their agreed upon term you have to pay to retain them...or someone else will. Just the way it goes. Same goes for any specialized talent I guess.

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