To keep Air Force pilots from jetting off to more lucrative careers with commercial airlines, the service is considering passing out enlistment bonuses that could go as high as $455,000 in total.
In testimony before a House Armed Services subcommittee on Wednesday, Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Gina Grasso said that extensions are being considered that would pay pilots the top bonus of $35,000 a year over the life of a 13-year contract, according to Air Force Times.
Attracting recruits who want to be pilots isn’t the problem, Grasso said, it’s keeping them in the cockpit once they are trained. She said that at the end of fiscal 2016, there was a shortage of 1,555 pilots across all sectors of the Air Force, a number that includes 1,211 fighter pilots.
The cost for the yearlong training of a fifth-generation fighter pilot amounts to $11 million, and a story on the Defense Department website quoted Grasso as saying: “A 1,200 fighter-pilot shortage amounts to a $12 billion capital loss for the United States Air Force.” Fifth-generation fighters are the most advanced aircraft now available, such as the F-35.
Grasso said a surge in mandatory retirements at commercial airlines led the airlines to hire more than 4,000 pilots last year, at a rate of pay 17 percent higher than the military’s. She expects similar hiring levels to persist for the next 10 to 15 years.
At the same hearing, Deputy Marine Commandant Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis said that because of the pressure to retain pilots, the Corps is proposing retention bonuses for the first time since 2011. They would be offered to pilots of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, the F/A-18 Hornet and the V-22 Osprey, but the size of the bonuses was not clear.