Tackling the Pilot Shortage is a Team Effort

A USAF pilot assigned to the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron completes preflight checks on an F-16 Fighting Falcon during exercise Red Flag-Rescue 19-1 at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., on May 8, 2019. Air Force photo by A1C Duncan C. Bevan.

The Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration will work together to address the national pilot shortage, with a specific focus on cross-agency collaboration, officials announced.

“This collaborative effort will enable the Air Force and the FAA to work with industry partners to share practices and find ways to get more people to fly,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a press release issued on May 31, her final day as the service’s top leader.

The Air Force, which is roughly 2,000 pilots short of what it needs, is working dozens of initiatives, from financial incentives to more flying time, aimed at closing the gap.

The partnership with the FAA will look to answer three key questions, according to the release:

  • “What can be done to attract new people to critical aviation professions?”
  • “How can efficiency in training be maximized?”
  • “How can we promote productive partnerships with government, Department of Defense, academia, and industry?”

“The FAA is actively working to ensure we have the aviation workforce needed today and in the future. We also are working with our industry and government partners, like the Air Force, to ensure that we address any barriers to people realizing their dreams of becoming a pilot or aircraft mechanic,” said Dan Elwell acting FAA administrator.

The Air Force’s 2020 budget requests an additional 4,400 Total Force airmen, including an additional 169 pilots, bringing the annual pilot production to 1,480—a significant increase over the 1,100 pilots the service produced in 2016, when it first stood up a tiger team to tackle the problem. That effort has since evolved into the Aircrew Crisis Task Force, which is led by a one-star general.

House appropriators recommended in May the Air Force should strengthen its outreach efforts to minority groups by working closely with Historically Black Colleges and University, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other minority-focused schools to create programs that can help more students meet eligibility requirements for pilot training. The House’s version of the 2020 spending bill also included an additional $8 million to help the service address the pilot shortage.