Earlier this year, the United States Air Force reported having put 1,276 airmen through undergraduate pilot training last year, about 100 fewer than in the fiscal year 2021 – falling even shorter than the 1,500 pilots that the service typically aims to graduate. This year the Air Force has its sights on 1,470 pilots.
In addition, to ensure that Air Force cockpits won’t be empty, it was announced this week that eligible active-duty aviators will have until September 15 to apply for the fiscal year 2023 (FY23) Legacy Aviation Bonus Program, which opened on Tuesday, June 6.
The Legacy AvB Program builds upon the previous years’ offers to retain experienced rated officers to meet Air Force retention, training and mission-readiness requirements to maintain the lethality of the force, the service noted. As with past fiscal year Legacy AvB programs, specific communities of pilots, RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) pilots, air battle managers, and combat systems officers are eligible for monetary incentives in exchange for active duty service commitments.
“Reliable personnel forecasts allow the Air Force to continue executing the warfighting mission,” explained Maj. Gen. Albert Miller, Air Force Training and Readiness director. “Our experienced aviators are uniquely qualified to succeed in a combat environment and these incentives are necessary to maintain that talent and competitiveness with our pacing challenge.”
FY23 Changes Coming
The Air Force announced this month that among the significant changes to the FY23 Legacy AvB Program include an increase in the monetary cap from $35,000 per year up to $50,000 per year for eligible officers. In addition, the FY23 AvB Program applies to aviators with an Undergraduate Flying Training Active Duty Service Commitment expiring in FY23 or earlier.
The Air Force’s bonuses range from $15,000-$50,000 per year with contract lengths ranging from three to 12 years.
However, aviators currently on an AvB contract will not be able to renegotiate for a higher amount in this year.
Moreover, separate from the Legacy AvB Program, the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has directed the Air Force to execute a Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Program, which will allow active-duty manned pilots with no more than three years, but not less than one year, remaining to sign a contract for the maximum monetary amount one to two fiscal years prior to the fiscal year their respective UFT ADSC commitment expires.
The service has also said that FY23 will be a transition year for the Air Force, as the maximum contract amount of $50,000 per year offered under the Legacy Program this year will not be offered next year. Instead, the maximum contract amount will only be offered under the demonstration program.
The United States Navy has already capped its annual pilot bonuses at $35,000 for fiscal year 2023.
Other Shortages Continue
The U.S. military has had to employ such incentives to fill the cockpits, but all of the services are failing to meet their respective quotas. Pilots remain especially in demand.
Currently, more than 12,000 pilots serve in the active duty Air Force, yet the service has continued to fall 2,000 pilots short of its overarching goal of 21,000 – which includes those who fly for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
The service has also spent the past several years modernizing its curriculum, with the goal to speed up pilot production, and to help airmen retain more information.
Another issue has been that instructors are also struggling with what has been described as crushing workloads, while flight simulator instructors are also in demand. Many have headed to commercial airlines or even private companies. The Air Force has been increasingly turning to virtual training to address some of these issues.
In addition, the services have been looking to other solutions, including artificial intelligence (AI) that can be used to develop self-flying aircraft. However, it appears that to meet the pilot quotas in the short term the easiest solution might be to just throw money at the problem.