The Air Force is looking for a few good pilots...or at least looking to keep them. Faced with a reported shortage of up to 200 fighter pilots, the Pentagon has authorized the Air Force to up its incentives under the Aviator Retention Program. "The Aviator Retention Pay Program is not a new program or a recruiting effort, but simply incentive pay for the Air Force that is offered to experienced pilots almost annually," says Christa D'Andrea with the Air Force Recruiting Service. Indeed, the retention program has been around for veteran pilots since 1989, but now the Air Force is offering a $25,000 signing bonus per year for nine years, which is nearly double the length of the standard contract of a five-year commitment.
D'Andrea explains that this program is aimed at keeping current pilots, not attracting new ones. "Pilots are only eligible (for the retention program) after they have satisfied their initial undergraduate pilot training and active duty service commitment of about 10 years," she says. That service time is in addition to their initial year of pilot training. "In other words, most pilots have between 11 and 12 years of commissioned service before they are eligible for the Aviator Retention Pay Program," she adds. The move comes amidst not only the reported Air Force pilot shortage, but increased competition in the Aviation Industry for commercial and private air pilots.
The added incentives may cost the Air Force a little more in the short-term but actually save more in the long term, since it costs about $6 million to fully train a fighter pilot. Thus, it's much cheaper to keep veteran pilots rather than replace them with new ones. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that just 65% of Air Force pilots today extend their service past their 11th year, compared to 80% back in 1993.