With an Air Force pilot shortage that has hit 2,000 people and commercial airlines in a hiring boom, service leaders are brainstorming ways to address a deepening crisis, including improved financial incentives and a host of administrative actions to improve quality of life for aviators and their families.
For the long term, Air Force recognizes it has to widen its pilot training pipeline by 25 percent to address stiffening competition for pilots.
Navy and Marine Corps also are taking special steps to retain more experienced pilots, but those service branches haven't seen the exodus of midcareer pilots battering the Air Force.
Air Force needed 3,781 active-duty fighter pilots by the end of September. It had fewer than 2,700.
"Within our pilot crisis we have multiple crises," said Brig. Gen. Michael Koscheski, director of the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force, established this year to recommend actions to address aircrew shortages.
The shortage of instructor pilots is another concern.
A majority of the 23,000 pilots Air Force needs for its force are flying air mobility missions in transports and tankers. These pilots, when not flying, are "carrying a disproportionate load" of aviation staff assignments and training billets that fighter pilots can't fill given their acute shortage, Koscheski said.
A recent Congressional Research Service report said the sharp rise in airline hires reflects industry expansion to meet passenger demand. Fleets of commercial aircraft are expected to double in size over the next 20 years. In the past three years, major air carriers have been forced to raise pilot salaries by 20 percent to fill their cockpits. Meanwhile, possibly 40 percent of pilots will reach mandatory retirement age in the next 10 years.
Another factor is a 2010 law that toughened hiring standards for airlines and put a premium on the experience of military pilots.
The task force has proposed reducing administrative requirements on aircrews, reducing requirements for fighter pilots to fill 365-day deployments, reducing off-station exercises, cutting ancillary training and hiring contractors to handle some administrative duties.
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