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Some Air Force pilots are choosing to stay in uniform amid commercial aviation slump

An F-35A Lightning II is seen before takeoff at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 8, 2016.

PETER THOMPSON/U.S. AIR FORCE

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 4, 2020

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The Air Force is hoping more soon-to-be-departing pilots will consider its generous retention bonuses as commercial airlines struggle with the effects of the coronavirus.

Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 4 that the service was 2,000 pilots short of the 21,000 needed to meet requirements laid out in 2018 National Defense Strategy. He cited competition from high-paying commercial airlines.

However, the pandemic has thrown commercial aviation into a free fall with passenger volumes dropping by 90%, the Financial Times reported May 14.

“Recognizing the challenges the airline industry is facing, we are providing options for rated officers to remain on active duty who otherwise had plans to depart,” Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Malinda Singleton said in an email Wednesday.

“We have seen Air Force members with approved retirement and separation dates request to withdraw their paperwork since March, and at this time 171 pilots have been approved to stay past their original retirement or separation dates,” she said.

Airlines have received billions of dollars in government funding for payrolls in recent months, the Financial Times reported.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed March 18, prohibits airlines from laying off or furloughing staff until Oct. 1, Singleton said.

“We might expect to see furloughed pilots requesting to return to active duty after this date and are keeping a close watch on the situation,” she said.

Active-duty aviators whose initial service commitment expires during this fiscal year are being offered the following retention bonuses:

Bomber, fighter, mobility and special operations pilots: Annual payments of $35,000 for contract lengths of three to 12 years. Lump-sums of $100,000 for seven- to nine-year contracts and $200,000 for 10- to 12-year contracts.

Command and control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pilots, combat search and rescue fixed wing pilots and remotely piloted aircraft pilots: Annual payments of $30,000 for contracts of three to six years and $35,000 for contracts of seven to 12 years. Lump-sums of $100,000 for 10- to 12-year contracts. — Combat search and rescue rotary wing pilots: Annual payments of $25,000 for contracts of three to six years and $30,000 for contracts of seven to 12 years. — Combat systems officers and air battle managers: Annual payments of $20,000 for contracts of three to six years and $25,000 for contracts of seven to nine years.

Aviators whose contracts have expired, or who have never signed a previous retention agreement, are being offered the following retention bonuses:

Bomber, fighter, mobility and special operations pilots: Annual payments of $35,000 for contracts of three to nine years.

Remotely piloted aircraft pilots, command and control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pilots and combat search and rescue fixed wing pilots: Annual payments of $30,000 for contracts of three to nine years.

Combat search and rescue rotary wing pilots: Annual payments of $25,000 for contracts of three to nine years.

Air battle managers: Annual payments of $20,000 for contracts of three to five years

The Air Force is working to increase its training capacity to produce 1,480 pilots a year as well as improving quality of life for aircrew and their families, Singleton said.

“In addition, the Air Force is partnering with commercial aviation and pilot educators who share our concern in ensuring the national pilot supply meets the needs of both the military and commercial communities,” she said.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

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