U.S. Air Force facing fighter pilot shortage

U.S. Air Force facing fighter pilot shortage

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE (KAUZ) - For nearly a year the U.S. Air Force has been battling a shortage.

Just last year the Air Force was short 750 fighter pilots and now they're doing everything they can to keep that number from rising.

One of the sources to this pilot shortage has been commercial airlines, who are facing their own shortage.

Expected to be down 16,000 pilots by 2020.

As commercial airline pilots retire, finding their replacements is getting harder.

Currently commercial airline pilots must have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours, which makes the Air Force a perfect recruiting ground.

As pilots reach the later stages of their careers, the option of flying for commercial airlines, who can offer big pay checks becomes appealing.

On average, commercial airline pilots can earn $120,000 per year compared to the average fighter pilots salary of $90,000.

James Jackson, a pilot for American Airlines, has been flying for nearly 60 years and spent 24 years serving in the U.S. Air Force.

There he said the longer he served, the more time he spent behind a desk and less time in the air.

"By the time I retired from the Air Force one hundred percent of my attention was on the job 24/7 and I was not flying and I was not happy," said Jackson.

U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is concerned by the civilian pilot drain and fears it will weaken the Air Force.

"The pilots we have aren't getting the training they need, especially to fly against the near pear competitors like the Russia's and the China's of the world," said Thornberry.

The Air Forces main problem has been pilot "retention" with the supply not meeting the Air Forces demand to produce the number of pilots they need.

Colonel Gregory Keeton, 80th Flying Training Wing Commander at Sheppard, said the Air Force has started to ramp up their pilot production.

With a goal of producing 400 fighter pilots a year, exactly how they plan to ramp up this production still remains unclear.

Col. Keeton said, "We have been able to increase our production for the U.S. to allow for more just pilots in undergraduate pilot training as well as the intro to fighter fundamentals."

The pilot shortage was one of many issues discussed at this year's ENJJPT Steering Committee Meeting.

Committee Chairman and Italian Air Force Brigadier General, Vincenzo Nuzzo sees the issue as no easy fix.

Congressman Thornberry said, "It takes ten years to develop a fighter pilot, so you can't flip a switch and all of a sudden fix this shortage."

In March, the Air Force started discussing a "stop-loss" a policy that would forcibly retain members of the armed forces on active duty beyond their original agreed period of enlistment, but that is expected to be a last resort.

The Air Force has been working to dramatically increase the annual mid-year bonus for pilots from $25,000 to $35,000, which has not changed since 1999.

That bonus is given to pilots who choose to remain with the U.S. Air Force.

They also plan to give airmen returning from deployment more time with their families.

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