ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force has more than doubled the number of officers eligible for a bonus that targets the aviation community, officials said Friday.

The Aviator Continuation Pay program pays $25,000 per year to pilots and $15,000 per year to air battle managers, each for five years, Air Force officials said.

Air battle managers are career fliers who provide pilots with "big picture" information on targets and enemy aircraft during operations.

Traditionally, pilots have had one year following flight school to opt for the bonus program, said Maj. Dewey DuHadway, of headquarters, Air Force personnel.

"If you didn’t sign in that first year, you were no longer eligible for the bonus," DuHadway said.

Now pilots who did not indicate they wanted the money in that year are eligible for a reduced bonus of $15,000 per year for three, four or five years, he said. Such pilots are not eligible if they have more than 13 years of service.

"The second change in the program is for all rated officers — pilots, combat systems officers (navigators) and air battle managers — who are all retirement-eligible: In other words, they’ve all passed their 20 years of military service," DuHadway said.

Those officers are eligible for a bonus of $15,000 per year until they reach 25 years of aviation service, which begins when they start flight school, he said.

About 2,300 officers are eligible for an ACP bonus this fiscal year, compared with about 1,000 in fiscal 2008, said Maj. Brian Backerman, also of headquarters Air Force personnel.

Based on historical trends, the Air Force hopes to retain 1,100 aviators this fiscal year, Backerman said.

"Our short-term requirement for officers with aviation expertise has recently grown significantly," DuHadway said.

The Air Force is looking to add 1,500 aviators as the service adds both manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, he said.

"We need to retain every rated officer that we can," he said.

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