Facing a continued pilot shortage, the United States announced that it would offer bonuses in excess of a half million dollars. The new retention incentives would pay pilots between $15,000 to $50,000 per year to commit to three- to 12-year contracts – up to $600,000 in total.

Payments would depend on the type of aircraft a pilot flies and the number of years that the aviator commits to continuing military service. It is being offered to manned aircraft and drone pilots, as well as system operators and air battle managers.

The service had announced on November 30 that it was opening to Regular Air Force FY24 Aviation Bonus programs – the FY24 Experienced Aviator Retention Incentive, formerly known as the Aviation Bonus, and the FY24 Demonstration Bonus. Eligible active-duty aviators have until August 1, 2024, to apply for EARI and the FY24 Demonstration Bonus; however, the program eligibility window could still close early if the budgetary maximum number of contracts is met before Aug. 1.

In addition, eligible Guard and Reserve aviators will continue to have until December 31, to apply for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve’s current 2023 Aviation Bonus programs.

“In today’s strategic environment, the requirement to preserve critical skills in our Air Force has never been more important,” said Maj. Gen. Adrian Spain, director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at Headquarters, Air Force.

“Specifically, aviation-related skillsets, formed through the crucible of combat and daily execution of high-intensity operations, is the foundation necessary to continue to effectively deliver warfighting capability to the Joint Force and the American people,” Spain added. “Retaining these professional aviators’ experience and expertise within the Total Force is imperative in order to outpace future challenges that may emerge throughout the spectrum of conflict.”

Pilot Shortage Continues

The Air Force has continued to struggle to address the ongoing pilot shortage – especially as it competes with commercial airlines and other organizations including shipping companies that pay large salaries for experienced aviators.

According to Stars & Stripes, the service remains nearly 2,000 pilots short of the 21,000 manned aviators that it needs to succeed in war and policymaking.

Retaining Unmanned Aerial System Pilots

It isn’t just those who climb in the cockpit or work with manned aircraft that could receive the bonuses. The 2024 defense policy bill will require the Air Force to report to Congress on how it would pay airmen assigned to drones up to $3,000 each year to cover living at remote installations, the Air Force Times recently reported.

It noted that those jobs in the Air Force can be costly to airmen and families due to limited child care and health care, as well as the costs of long commutes in rural areas.

Failing to Address the Problem?

There has been criticism of the bonuses, with a case being made that the Air Force is simply throwing money at the problem rather than resolving it. This could include providing more opportunities for airmen to fly and instituting changes like adding warrant officers.

It is because the service cut flying hours as America has withdrawn from overseas conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq – while instructor hiring slowed, and the size of the Air Force fleet has shrunk. That resulted in an exodus from the service.

However, early data has shown that the bonuses have seen success. A total of 210 contract extensions were signed in just the first 10 days of the program that opened in August.

In addition, the Air Force is also offering pilots some non-monetary incentives to remain in the service, including the opportunity to choose their assignment of choice, decline assignments or remain in their current location.

As previously reported, all of the branches of the military are exploring how technology including artificial intelligence (AI) can help address the shortage. But for now, it would appear that throwing money at the problem is what still works best.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.