USAF offers $50K to experienced pilots to remain in service

The Air Force is providing a larger incentive – up to $50,000 per year – in order to retain some of its most experienced pilots and aviators in the midst of a pilot shortage. Starting Tuesday and running through September 15, certain pilots, including remote piloted aircraft pilots, air battle managers, and combat systems officers, can apply for the Legacy Aviation Bonus Program. 


According to a press statement issued by the agency on Monday, major modifications to the program include "an increase in the monetary cap from $35,000 per year up to $50,000 per year" for individuals who are eligible. "Reliable personnel forecasts allow the Air Force to continue executing the warfighting mission," said Maj. Gen. Albert Miller, Air Force training and readiness chief, in a statement. "Our experienced aviators are uniquely qualified to succeed in a combat environment, and these incentives are necessary to maintain that talent and competitiveness with our pacing challenge." 

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The Air Force has faced a severe pilot shortage in recent years. During a budget conference with reporters in March, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall stated that the military has been working on the issue from a variety of perspectives, including bonuses. "We do have a [pilot] shortage," Kendall said. "In order to get more people in, we need to improve the efficiency of the pipeline." The reserve and Guard scenario is a little more difficult, but there are certainly shortages there as well that we're attempting to address." According to the press release, pilots must have an Undergraduate Flying Training Active-Duty Service Commitment expiring in fiscal 2023 or before to be eligible for the new Legacy Aviation Bonus Program. Pilots with contracts under a prior aviation incentive scheme "will not be able to renegotiate for a higher amount this year," according to the news release. The Air Force was also authorized under the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to launch another incentive project known as the Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Program. According to the press release, that program would allow active-duty manned pilots with no more than three years, but no less than one year, remaining to sign a contract for the maximum monetary amount one to two fiscal years prior to the fiscal year their Undergraduate Flying Training Active-Duty Service Commitment expires. 

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The Legacy Aviation Bonus Program will not be available next year, which means "the maximum contract amount will only be offered under the demonstration program," according to the service. The Air Force has long struggled with pilot recruitment, training, and retention. For almost a decade, the service has grappled with a pilot shortfall, frequently falling 1,500 to 2,000 aviators short of needs, as previously reported by The extra bonus comes as the Air Force as a whole faces its most difficult recruitment climate in decades. Kendall said in March at the Air and Space Force Association's convention in Colorado that the service is expecting a 10% shortage in active-duty numbers, with the gap expected to be significantly higher for the Guard and Reserve. Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, the outgoing Air Force Recruiting Service Commander, told last month that the shortage will most likely be approximately 13% on active duty and 30% in the Guard and Reserve.

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