Goldfein: Pandemic May Help Retention, Pilot Shortage

Air Force retention, particularly with pilots, may improve because of the damage to the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said April 1. At the least, it has freed up many Air National Guard pilots and maintainers to serve while their day jobs with the airlines are in abeyance.

“Every challenge has an opportunity in it,” Goldfein said during an online press conference following an AFA Mitchell Institute event. “The airlines are not flying as much,” and many airline pilots who are members of the Air National Guard “are now available to us …. more than in the past.” The Air National Guard provides 70 percent of air refueling capability, Goldfein noted, and a like percentage in the rest of the air mobility enterprise.

Although it’s too early to say for sure what impact COVID-19 might have on the pilot shortage, Goldfein predicted that “as the nation recovers from this, economically, there will be stronger incentives to stay in.” It will be his job, he said, to “make that flying experience, that maintenance experience, that battle manager experience, … across the Air Force, as rich an experience as we can make it, for them and their families.” The Air Force continues to cite a deficit of about 2,000 pilots, which has persisted for several years.

He said he’s seen early “predictive models” that say retention will “go up across the Air Force” due to the pandemic.

Goldfein also said he’s had no reports of Guard units having trouble fulfilling their missions to move military, civilians, and their gear in a domestic crisis; a concern that was the subject of much debate when the Air Force backed out of the C-27 small airlifter program 10 years ago. The main discussions with Air National Guard chief Lt. Gen Scott Rice and Guard Bureau chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel revolve around ensuring that when the Guard is called up, “they have access to all the healthcare and the things that they need to be able to operate, and for us to take care of their families as they do the nation’s business,” Goldfein said.