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Air Force seeks retired pilots to return for staff jobs, will boost flight pay

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee for Defense on June 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

SCOTT M. ASH/U.S. AIR FORCE

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 25, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Air Force is hoping some retired pilots will return temporarily to active duty to serve in staff positions in a move aimed at keeping its current middle-ranked pilots in the air, the service’s top civilian said Friday.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced the service is looking for up to 25 retired pilots to return to the service on 12-month contracts to fill staff jobs that require the expertise of a military pilot. It is the Air Force’s latest attempt to keep experienced mid-level officers in their cockpits as it faces continued pilot retention issues.

“We’d like to keep our pilots who are current in the aircraft in the aircraft and try to fill some of these vital flight slots with people who have the experience needed but who have subsequently retired from the service,” Wilson told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday. “…Come on back to active duty, give us another year of service in a staff job.”

Retired pilots who volunteer to return to work those jobs would not be allowed to fly.

Wilson also announced the Air Force would increase flight pay for officers and enlisted airmen for the first time since 1999.

The service will boost the maximum aviation career incentive pay for officers to $1,000 per month beginning Oct. 1. The maximum is now $840. Career enlisted flyer incentive pay will also increase from a maximum of $400 per month to $600.

The Air Force largely blames attractive jobs in commercial aviation for its pilot retention issues, which has left the service short more than 1,200 fighter pilots and 300 tanker and cargo aircraft pilots.

Most regional airlines require significantly less cockpit time for military pilots than their civilian counterparts – about 750 flight hours as opposed to about 1,500. Airlines have hired pilots extensively in recent years to replace Baby Boomers as they reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. Wilson said Friday that commercial airlines have hired more than 4,000 pilots in the last year.

But in addition to attractive civilian pilot jobs, Air Force pilots have also blamed limited flight training time, increased administrative duties and long, recurring overseas deployments for leaving the service, Air Force officials have acknowledged.

Wilson said the service is tackling the issue head-on.

Last month, the Air Force announced it would pay eligible pilots retention bonuses ranging from $10,000 to $35,000 to remain in the service.

Earlier in the year, Air Force leaders met with some top airline executives to discuss ways to make it easier for pilots to fly in the reserves and work for commercial airlines.

The service also said it has cut some of the administrative duties for pilots in 2017.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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