The High Cost of the Pilot Shortage

The Air Force closed out Fiscal 2016 short a total of 1,211 fighter pilots, which amounted to a $12 billion capital loss, the service’s manpower chief said on Wednesday. “It should be noted that the cost to train a fifth generation fighter pilot to prepare him or her for their first operational squadron is approximately $11 million,” Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso told the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee. Grosso said the Air Force does not have a problem recruiting new aviators, but it struggles to retain mid-career pilots who have grown weary of the high operational tempo and repeated deployments over the last 26 years. Not to mention commercial airlines are “actively recruiting the world-class experience of our rated airmen because the Air Force pilots are highly attractive with diverse experience and quality aviation training,” said Grosso, who noted the “annual hiring levels are expected to continue for the next 10 to 15 years.” In an effort to address the problem, the Air Force intends to expand undergraduate pilot training to the “maximum capacity” of 1,400 pilots per year. The service also has reduced additional duties and administrative work, allowing pilots to focus primarily on flying. Last year, Congress authorized a $35,000 a year aviation bonus—the first increase in 18 years.