Editor’s note: This article by Thomas Novelly originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
The Air Force is offering a bigger bonus -- up to $50,000 per year -- as it hopes to keep some of its most experienced pilots and retain aviators amid a pilot shortage.
Certain pilots -- including remote piloted aircraft pilots, air battle managers and combat systems officers -- can apply for the Legacy Aviation Bonus Program starting Tuesday and through Sept. 15. Major changes to the program include "an increase in the monetary cap from $35,000 per year up to $50,000 per year" for those who are eligible, the service said in a Monday press release.
"Reliable personnel forecasts allow the Air Force to continue executing the warfighting mission," Maj. Gen. Albert Miller, the Air Force training and readiness director, said in the release. "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."
In recent years, the Air Force has experienced a wide-ranging pilot shortage. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said during a budget briefing with reporters in March that the service has been working on that issue from several angles, including bonuses.
"We do have a [pilot] shortage," Kendall said. "We're having to try to improve the efficiency of the pipeline to get more people in. The reserve and Guard equation is a little more complicated, but we do have some shortages there that we're trying to address as well."
To be eligible under the new Legacy Aviation Bonus Program, pilots must have an Undergraduate Flying Training Active-Duty Service Commitment expiring in fiscal 2023 or earlier, according to the press release.
Pilots who already have a contract under a previous aviation bonus program "will not be able to renegotiate for a higher amount in this year," according to the news release.
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The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act also directed the Air Force to create another bonus initiative, called the Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Program.
That program would allow active-duty manned pilots -- with no more than three years, but not 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, according to the press release.
The Legacy Aviation Bonus Program won't be offered next year, meaning "the maximum contract amount will only be offered under the demonstration program," the service said.
The Air Force's issue with pilot recruitment, training and retention is not new. The service has struggled with a pilot shortage for nearly a decade, often landing anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 aviators shy of requirements, Military.com has previously reported.
The new bonus also comes as the Air Force, as a whole, struggles with its toughest recruiting environment in decades.
This past March, Kendall announced at the Air and Space Force Association's conference in Colorado that the service is projecting about a 10% shortfall in active-duty numbers, and the hole will likely be even larger for the Guard and Reserve.
Outgoing Air Force Recruiting Service Commander, Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, told Military.com in an interview last month that the shortfall will more likely be around 13% on the active-duty side and around 30% in the Guard and Reserve.