Air Force addressing individual pilot communities in attempt to reduce 2000 pilot shortage

U.S. Air Force pilots from the 33rd Fighter Wing step to their jets, during the Northern Lightning exercise at Volk Field, Wisconsin, Aug. 12, 2019. Pilots and aircrews participating in Northern Lightning operate in an environment with adversary aircraft, electronic jamming and simulated surface-to-air threats. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Heather Leveille)

The US Air Force is losing pilots at an alarming rate and now it is doing some introspection -and a lot of listening- to figure out how to keep Airmen from hanging up their helmets.

While the USAF has managed to end up with more pilots at the end of the year than the start for the first time in many years, the Air Force has seemingly learned its lesson, and is now taking its current 2,000-pilot shortage seriously.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Air Combat Command leader General James Holmes said of the matter. “One of the things I’ve learned is that there are things that apply to every pilot in our shortage, but also each community in our pilot and operations career fields is a little different and unique. The problems in the A-10 pilot force are not the same as those in the F-16 pilot force.”

To put his quote in perspective, it was recently found that A-10 pilots had the best retention rate, especially compared to F-16 pilots. Holmes believes this to be the sense of community among “Hog Drivers,” and the fact that they feel they are top-performers who are contributing to something important.

On the F-16 side of the community, the “Viper Drivers” aren’t so happy.

“In the F-16 community I have three active duty F-16 operational squadrons in the continental United States and I have eight overseas,” Holmes said. “Pilots go there for a year without their families. It’s a tremendous burden on the three squadrons in the United States to train people to fill those eight overseas squadrons. So what can I do to readdress that and take some of the pressure off so they don’t feel like they are on a hamster wheel of training the next maintainer or operator to go to an overseas squadron? Otherwise, they feel they never have a chance really to dig in and achieve the readiness they’d like to.”

According to the Federal News Network, the Air Force is beginning to look into surveys, retention incentives and other moves that could keep the most dissatisfied pilots in-service, though the damage may be done for this year.

A recent DoD study highlighted this, claiming that “Job dissatisfaction, career dissatisfaction, frequent and long deployments, poor quality of life, non-competitive pay and lack of personal and professional development are among the reasons cited for why many experienced military pilots separate from military service.”

Well, at least the A-10 pilots are living high on the hog.

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