Hefty Bonuses Await Experienced Drone Pilots Who Re-up

drone pilots

By Debbie Gregory.

As the Air Force tries to retain drone pilots, the service branch is offering critical skills retention bonuses of $125,000 if the pilots agree to serve five more years.

The Air Force said that 18X RPA pilots who have accumulated six years of aviation service, following their undergraduate RPA pilot training, are eligible for the bonuses.

The bonuses will be paid out in five annual installments of $25,000. Pilots also have the option of receiving 50 percent of the bonus up front.

To be eligible, officers also must be active duty lieutenant colonels or below, and must be receiving RPA aviation incentive pay, and they cannot complete 25 years of active duty service before the five-year bonus period ends.

“It is important to ensure RPA pilots receive a bonus that is equitable to other pilots,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said. “Therefore, we worked closely with OSD to implement the CSRB for them and with a commensurate amount this year. These airmen are making extremely important contributions to the fight; we need these professionals to stay with us and we’re committed to retaining them in our force.”

In July, we reported that the Air Force had floated a plan to offer $15,000 retention bonuses for commitments of either five years — for a total of $75,000 — or nine years, for a total of $135,000. At that time, due to the shortage, drone pilots were flying up to 900 hours a year, compared with fighter pilots, who were in the cockpit an average of 250 hours a year, according to Air Force officials.

The Air Force also said it will allow pilots, whose undergraduate flying training active-duty service commitments are due to expire in fiscal 2017, to sign up for an aviator retention pay bonus this year. In the release, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, director of military force management policy, said that those pilots would receive their first payment as soon as their contracts are ratified. The remaining payments would be spread out equally through the rest of the contract term.

Airmen applying for the bonuses will likely get their first payments within three weeks of their application’s final approval, and processing by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

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