Goldfein: Pilot Shortage, Retention Issues “Leveling Off”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, right, speaks June 11, 2019, at the Association of Defense Communities Summit in Washington, D.C. Staff photo by Brian Everstine.

The Air Force’s pilot shortage has “leveled off,” and more pilots are now looking to stay in service, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said June 11.

The Air Force has said for years it is about 2,000 pilots short, but Goldfein said it expects to reverse that trend within the next five years. “Indicators for retention are going slightly uphill,” he said at the Association for Defense Communities conference in Washington, D.C., though he did not provide specific numbers.

USAF already has implemented a number of measures to try to keep pilots in service, including bonuses of up to $420,000 over 12 years. Goldfein said such steps help “take the financial burden” off of military families, but he acknowledged it doesn’t address the biggest issue he hears from pilots—improving the quality of service an airman experiences.

“How do we ensure their service in the United States Air Force is as rich an experience as we can possibly make it?” he said. “Pilots joined to fly. So how do we get that individual airborne to be able to compete and be the best they can be in the business of military aviation?”

The Air Force also is working to make sure squadrons are inclusive so airmen “see value in what they are contributing [and] that they are valued as important members of the organization.” But to do this, the service needs the right leadership at that level to inspire airmen.

“If we can get those pieces right, it’s probably as important as anything else we do to retain not only pilots, but maintainers, cyber, intelligence, all of those of those career fields that we need to keep,” he said.

The state of school systems at bases is a major concern. Airmen are happy to deploy and to live in rural locations, but a lack of quality schools can force them to “make a difficult decision,” he said.

The Air Force and other services have outlined steps to improve the schools in and around bases, including a recent joint service letter to governors stating that future basing decisions will take into account the quality of nearby schools.