Pilot Shortage is Even Worse Than Announced

And F-15 pilot inspects an Eagle before flight in April at Kadena AB, Japan. Air Force photo by SrA Lynette M. Rolen

The Air Force’s pilot shortage is even worse than service Secretary Heather Wilson reported last week.

Wilson, speaking during a “State of the Air Force” briefing on Thursday, said the service is short 1,926 pilots. However, that number was based on an old counting method that didn’t include remotely-piloted aircraft operators or the Reserve component, Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen said.

Including RPA pilots, as well as pilot shortfalls in the Guard and Reserve, the actual number is “approximately 2,000 Total Force” pilots USAF was short by the end of fiscal 2017, Yepsen said. The Aircrew Crisis Task Force “expanded the scope of our analysis to ensure we’re taking a more holistic look at all pilot numbers,” she said in an email to Air Force Magazine.

Putting the numbers into more context, Yepsen said “the shortage in our manned platforms continued to grow by about 250 pilots” in FY17, although that loss “was offset by improvements in the health of our RPA force.”

The fighter pilot shortage “continues to be our greatest problem,” she said, as USAF is “nearly 1,300 fighter pilots short” across the Total Force. However, the “greatest negative trend” between fiscal ‘16 and ‘17 was “in our bomber and mobility pilots.”

Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, head of the Aircrew Crisis Task Force, said at a Pentagon press event in October that USAF’s solution “is to grow our way out of this,” looking for a 25 percent increase in pilot production. He said it would take time “to get in place what we need to start producing more pilots,” and the key element to that is to have “stable and predictable budgets.”

At the State of the Air Force brief last week where Wilson offered the 1,926 number, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the service is “first and foremost looking to retain everyone we can, as we build up our capacity to produce more.”

He also asserted USAF’s pilot shortage is symptomatic of a wider problem wherein the nation isn’t producing nearly enough pilots to satisfy military or commercial needs, which pushes the airlines to raid the ranks of military aviators. “This is a national-level issue that we’re working with industry,” Goldfein said.

The Air Force is designing new programs to try to keep pilots. The Air Force Personnel Center on Thursday announced that airmen who are selected for dependent-restricted, short overseas tours can select their follow-on assignments.

The airmen can pick where they go as long as they select a “realistic location.” This agreement would let airmen’s families stay in the pre-tour location, or move to a follow-on location early, according to AFPC.