By Debbie Gregory.
The loss of highly trained and experienced pilots from the U.S. military to the private sector is a legitimate worry. And the U.S. Air Force says its deficit of fighter pilots is growing.
At the end of fiscal year 2016, the Air Force was short 750 fighter pilots, up from 511 at the end of the previous year.
“The health of the fighter pilot community is bad,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements (AF/A3). “Recruiting and getting people on to fly is not a problem,” he added. “If you look across the Air Force, the quality of the individuals coming into the Air Force are some of the highest we ever had. That goes for the enlisted and officer force.”
The past 25 years of continuous combat operations has taken a toll on the Air Force fighter community. Compounding the problem since fiscal 2014, losses of fighter pilots have exceeded the Air Force’s annual production capacity.
The Air Force is tackling the problem of capacity. There is a lot of infrastructure associated with ramping up pilot numbers.
The Air Force and has started several initiatives to fix problem areas with a threefold approach: reducing the number of fighter pilot requirements, increasing retention of pilots and increasing the production of new fighter pilots.
Much of the impact on the military flying community stems from the draw of commercial airlines, who have been hiring at an increased rate the past three years.
“There are three pillars that a lot of people focus on when considering staying in the military; quality of service, quality of life and monetary compensation,” said Col. Jason Cockrum, the AF/A3 director of staff. “Nobody in the civilian sector can compete with quality of service. What Airmen go out and do every day for our nation, you just can’t get that anywhere else.”
He continued, “So we are focused on improvements related to quality of life and monetary compensation. We are not going to be able to compete directly with the airline industry on the monetary piece, but we are focusing on how we can ensure the other two pillars offset any differences offered by the civilian sector.”