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USAF Pilot Retention Rates & Bonuses

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USAF Pilot Retention Rates & Bonuses

Old 21st Nov 2017, 06:45
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USAF Pilot Retention Rates & Bonuses

The Air Force is throwing money at pilots to stay. Fewer and fewer are interested.

Despite offering fat retention bonuses to entice pilots to stay in the Air Force, the percentage of eligible pilots accepting them is plummeting.

The Air Force said it typically hopes about 65 percent of eligible pilots will accept the retention bonuses. But in fiscal 2015, only 55 percent took the bonuses and signed up for longer stints. And the so-called “take rate” has plunged even further since then, to 48 percent in fiscal 2016, and 44 percent in fiscal 2017, according to figures released by the Air Force. In all, 476 pilots accepted retention bonuses last year.

The dramatically increased bonuses ― once called Aviator Retention Pay and earlier this year renamed the Aviation Bonus Program ― are one of several tools the Air Force is rolling out to try to stem an exodus that has contributed to an almost 2,000-pilot shortfall. Commercial airlines are aggressively recruiting Air Force pilots and can offer salaries that are far higher than what the military offers.

In June, the Air Force for the first time began offering retention bonuses of up to $455,000 to fighter pilots who agree to extend their service 13 more years, at $35,000 per year. Until then, the most a fighter pilot could get was a retention bonus of $225,000, or $25,000 per year for a nine-year extension. Fighter pilots are also eligible for $35,000 annual bonuses for extensions of one, two, five or nine years. Only five out of about 200 eligible fighter pilots accepted the 13-year extension in 2017, although it was only available for the last four months of the fiscal year. In all, 122 fighter pilots accepted retention bonuses last year.

Although the increased bonuses have not been enough to turn things around, the Air Force says it’s encouraged that the decline appears to be slowing. “Any time we’re short of that [65 percent] target, it’s an area of concern,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Kate Atanasoff said in an email. “However, given the continued increase in airline hiring, which is historically our biggest challenge to retention, we’re encouraged that the take rate has not continued to decline at the same rate. We’ll continue to pursue programs that incentivize retention both through quality of life and monetary incentive programs.”

For most categories of pilots, the decline in take rates between 2016 and 2017 was indeed smaller than the previous year’s decline. For example, the take rate for 11F fighter pilots dropped from 47.8 percent in 2015 to 39.5 percent in 2016, a decline of 8.3 percentage points. It fell further to 34.6 percent last year, which represented a 4.9 percentage point drop.

But not all categories of pilots are slowing down. For some, the decline is accelerating. The 11H rescue pilots’ take rate actually ticked up 0.2 percentage points in 2016, to 78.6 percent, before falling 2.9 percentage points to 75.7 percent in 2017. And 11R C2ISR pilots saw an increase from 55.3 percent in 2015 to 58.5 percent in 2016, before recording a 19.4 percentage point decline to 39.1 percent in 2017. The 11S special operations pilots’ take rates increased in 2017 by 10.5 percentage points, to 59.2 percent, and 11U and 18X unmanned pilots’ rates went up 7.1 percentage points to 62.3 percent.

Atanasoff said that many factors may have contributed to the C2ISR decline. It is a relatively small community ― just 23 11R pilots accepted retention bonuses in 2017 ― so small fluctuations in the actual number of pilots could have larger effects on the percentages, she said. Also, Atanasoff said, the Air Force cut the maximum bonus C2ISR pilots could receive in 2017. They previously were eligible for up to a nine-year extension at $25,000 annually, or a maximum bonus of $225,000. But in 2017, the maximum extension was cut to five years at $28,000 annually, or $140,000.

“The Air Force is working diligently to explore and implement new retention initiatives to keep our skilled aviators,” Atanasoff said. Most other categories of pilots saw increases in their maximum possible bonus in 2017. For example, bomber, special operations and mobility pilots for the first time became eligible for up to nine-year extensions at $30,000 annually, or a total of $270,000, up from the maximum $225,000 some of those pilots could have received in 2016.

When asked why take rates continue to decline, Atanasoff pointed to the continuous combat operations the Air Force has been maintaining since the Gulf War 26 years ago, as well as the shrinkage of the service’s aircraft and manning levels. “These two opposing forces have put a strain on our airmen’s ability to maintain a work-life balance,” Atanasoff said. “At the same [time], airlines are hiring at record levels, offering our airmen stability for their families and financial compensation that the Air Force can’t compete with.”
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 07:11
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Does that mean some countries can hope for less harassment and bombing in the future?
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 07:20
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ORAC wrote:
In June, the Air Force for the first time began offering retention bonuses of up to $455,000 to fighter pilots who agree to extend their service 13 more years, at $35,000 per year.
Somewhat more enticing than the free leather jacket of Ronnie Raygun's time....
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 10:47
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End of story:

“History says the single most relevant factor for pilot retention in the Air Force is how much the airlines are hiring,” Holmes said. “I can’t pay pilots enough to offset what the airlines are paying. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.”

https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/y...ighter-pilots/
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 13:43
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Salute!

It ain't the $$$$$.

Most of us would have paid the government to be able to fly those jets.

It's the quality of life that is driving the exodus. It started over 20 years ago when we wouldn't completely leave Iraq. Stoopid "no fly zone" or something. So my local wing had a rotation of Eagles going over there all the time.

And then we had 9/11 and our special ops folks here deployed withing days to find UBL. My neighbor parachuted in and rode with the northern alliance folks on horses!

Then 'raqi II. GASP!! And more in the 'stan and in......

They are not deploying as much the last four or five years, but the damage had been done.

I spent my own long remote tours during the Vietnam era, but it finally ended in 1975 and we went back to basic cold war status and the Viper was coming on line with a line of volunteers a mile long.

I saw the exodus in the 'nam years when we would have to go back every two years or so or get out. Many got out.

Gums opines...
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 14:35
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Originally Posted by gums View Post
It ain't the $$$$$.

It's the quality of life that is driving the exodus.

Gums opines...
You are correct, Sir. Lifestyle is a very big factor in the travails of the USAF pilot retention. They're working these people like rented mules.

In the Terms & Endearment section, there's a long series of articles about this issue and lifestyle figures prominently in it.

Under the umbrella of "airline" flying comes better money...and lifestyle.
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 18:16
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Salute!

TNX for nice words, "GUY".

I did not include many things about the military lifestyle and especially the fighter community that changed drastically starting in the 70's.

Last base I saw with a stag bar was Nellis in early 80's. My old haunt at Myrtle Beach had "sanitized" their O-club, even with an A-10 wing there ( 1983 or so). The clubs went "smokeless" and no more Friday afternoon happy hours and the beat goes on. Eglin hung in there until mid-90's after being the "World's Largest Distributor of Mig Parts" during Desert Storm. USAF finally made the wing take down the sign and the constant rotation got old. And we also had Khobar Towers, where one of our squads lost over a dozen folks from a truck bomb.

The health system changed, but was still cheaper than anything you could get for a reasonable price downtown. The system got better in the 90's after some scandals at VA and a successful lawsuit against DoD that re-instated our coverage we had for so many years.

All that aside, the basic ops tempo is still the driver. I know many airline folks, and the ones on the long haul routes prolly spend 10 - 15 days per month on the road. They get a good number of days off between the missions, but in the whole they prolly spend as many days away from home as I ever did. 'course, they are not getting shot at, and no Taliban is blowing up their HQ. These days our warriors are at some campground for three or four months at a time. And most places these days are not vacation venues.

I had a super career. I flew really neat jets, got shot at, shot up and shot down once. Except for getting shot at, it was great, and my wife went thru the whole thing with me from day one. We still have great friends and the men covered each other's back in combat on two or three tours.

It's just not fun anymore.

Gums opines...
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 18:37
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It's just not fun anymore
Same for your UK cousins as well...
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 19:38
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The airlines always get bad press when as people here are suggesting the USAF needs to look closer to home than blame them. A lot of the pilots from the “gray airliner” world I bump into seem more interested in cargo than airline options. Once they get their almost automatic promotion to Major then for most they’ve hit their career ceiling. Then it is all about how many flavours of ice cream are available.
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 19:55
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Puts the UK's retention offer to shame then; £36,000 for 6 years!!

People are leaving because yes, there are opportunities outside, but if they are content where they are, they wouldn't feel the need to put their family through the stress of relocation and a job transition.
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 20:18
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Is there a similar problem in USN/USMC?
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 20:28
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Originally Posted by YellowTom View Post
The airlines always get bad press when as people here are suggesting the USAF needs to look closer to home than blame them.
In the USA, airlines taking military pilots is merely the natural order of things...always has been to my understanding of history. I don't hear it carrying any blame.

What's different in our current chapter of history is the USAF having meetings with airline management about how to stem the flow...and allegedly to some mutual benefit accruing to both parties.

This is due to the staggering number of mandatory retirements on the airline books.

This is akin to negotiating with the foxes guarding the hen house door about limiting chicken inflow. It's actually pretty funny because the airlines WILL fill seats and they want every frikkin' military pilot they can get their hands on. They'll get them.

Last edited by bafanguy; 21st Nov 2017 at 21:08.
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 20:32
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Originally Posted by Trim Stab View Post
Is there a similar problem in USN/USMC?
I don't think it's as great but they're feeling the pinch. I saw a passing reference to it in one of the many articles I've read (all saying pretty much the same thing) but with no data like we're seeing from the USAF.

Found this. Not sure what "special steps" are:

“The Navy and Marine Corps also are taking special steps to retain more experienced pilots but, so far, those service branches haven’t seen the exodus of mid-career pilots battering the Air Force, particularly its fighter aircraft community.”

https://www.stripes.com/airline-hiri...rtage-1.498140

I assume attrition and "production limitations" are different issues:

“The Air Force is also planning to move some of its lieutenants to Navy and Marine Corps squadrons ― which Holmes acknowledged have also been struggling with pilot production limitations ― to fly Navy EA-18 Growlers and Marine F-35s.”

https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/y...ighter-pilots/

Last edited by bafanguy; 21st Nov 2017 at 21:09.
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 22:28
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Put 36grand in front of me or 360, it really wouldn’t matter. It’s not that I wouldn’t go back, I couldn’t go back. I could never do it to my family again, and now I’ve tasted the other flavours of ice cream, I’m sorry to say that the effort that went into de-constructing what was a lifestyle into just another job, has well and truly worked. So now, I’d be looking at how to keep my workforce with as much effort as civilian companies do, or, accept that you will have to increase your training outflow to offset. I bumped into an old mate who’s still flying AH, he said they’re busier than ever!! God help them.
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 22:35
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Salute!

I am not too sure about the Marines, but the Navy folks have scheduled cruises unless we go to war. So they know their schedule and they and families can love it or leave it.

The USAF fighter units are constantly going here and there without a long range schedule. Ditto for some of the tac airlift and maybe a small group of buffs ( the flying bomb trucks at the sandbox). The main airlifters are not going thru the same drill.

During 'nam we had a system of "overseas return date" plus "remote tour". So it was first in/out and then after all others did their turn, your number came up again. That was how I got my third tour in 1975. My second tour was only 170 days or so, meaning it didn't count for a "return date" or "remote tour". So early '75 I was sent back for the full "remote tour". The 170 day TDY option did not offer any financial help, whereas the PCS "remote tour" provided a few goodies for the family.

The situation the last 20 years has been about the same. Go, come back, go again, come back.......... I have heard there are some deals whereby you can make the jaunt count for a full-blown tour and then go to the back of the line after being transferred to a training outfit or non-flying assignment.

Oh well....

Gums sends...
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Old 21st Nov 2017, 23:21
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Had lunch with head of hiring for United today. He said last year 51% of hires had mil background.
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Old 22nd Nov 2017, 02:06
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Originally Posted by Rick777 View Post
Had lunch with head of hiring for United today. He said last year 51% of hires had mil background.
Years ago almost all Pan Am pilots had a military background and many were Yalies and Boat School graduates.

And Delta preferred Navy pilots. The gouge was that for interview purposes you couldn't be a Catholic or drive a Corvette. Be careful what you say at the Barbecue Kitchen during the lunch break. And don't rock in Dr. Janus' chair during the psych eval.

When Top Gun came out in 1986 Naval Aviator morale and recruitment shot up.

The Air Force then gave out leather jackets 'similar to those worn by Naval aviators' in an attempt to 'improve air crew morale and retention.'

Leather jackets to cover Air Force flight crews again

June 4, 1987

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- The Air Force will resume issuing leather flight jackets to its combat-ready fliers in an estimated $5 million effort to enhance esprit de corps, military officials say.

'The flight-jacket initiative was suggested by field commanders as a means of enhancing esprit within the combat-ready air crew force,' said Lt. Gen. Thomas Hickey, deputy chief of personnel for the Air Force.

'It is one of a number of efforts the Air Force is undertaking to improve air crew morale and retention.'

Hickey said Wednesday the service 'intends to renew the tradition' of issuing leather flying jackets that 'will be similar to the jackets issued to air crews during World War II' and similar to those worn by Naval aviators.
https://www.upi.com/Archives/1987/06...8952549777600/
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Old 22nd Nov 2017, 08:05
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Originally Posted by Rick777 View Post
Had lunch with head of hiring for United today. He said last year 51% of hires had mil background.

Rick777,

Certainly the norm. This recent statement from the SVP Flt Ops at DL :

"...more than half of our pilots, are veterans or on active military duty."

The only reason it's not closer to 100% is supply numbers. Just life in the big airline.
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Old 22nd Nov 2017, 09:35
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Here's a recent addition to the info. They're discussing measures they previously said they wouldn't use:

But Venable wonders whether the Air Force will need to resort to more drastic, involuntary recall measures, including invoking stop-loss.

“I don’t think there’s much the Air Force can do right now ... except invoke stop-loss in order to stop this gross departure of pilots,” Venable said. “I had the chief of staff here at the Heritage Foundation [at the beginning of the year] and he said stop-loss is not on the table. But, at one point or another, you’ve got to maintain your combat capability. And if they can’t ... I think he’s going to have to [consider] stop-loss. It would be draconian, everybody would hate it.

But I’m not sure what their alternatives are going to be.”


https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/y...ar-zone-fight/
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Old 22nd Nov 2017, 13:51
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And Delta preferred Navy pilots. The gouge was that for interview purposes you couldn't be a Catholic or drive a Corvette. Be careful what you say at the Barbecue Kitchen during the lunch break. And don't rock in Dr. Janus' chair during the psych eval.
You forgot the 'slide puzzle' on the secretary's desk.

You know, I went thru that drill in ATL in 1972 with the usual group of 'fawning psycophants'...."Honest sir, all I've ever wanted to do is be a Delta pilot."

Said to myself, this is ridiculous and took a full time job with the Arizona ANG. 6 months later when Delta said you're hired, I told 'em I had changed my mind.

A good feeling and ultimately one of my better decisions.

Back in the 60s & 70s getting out was the only way to have a chance of doing what most really wanted to do....and that was to 'just fly airplanes' and not be at the mercy of the personnel system....'get your PME done, do your rated supp, you've got to get a 'sponsor', be a good staff guy, etc.' ROTC grad, I got a DG regular commission out of pilot training and gave it up to go to....

....the ANG where you were your own personnel officer and determined your own career path.

Ops tempo or lack of incentives, there are folks that relish the life as long as they can just fly, and really aren't necessarily any less intelligent or less capable than the command motivated 'fast burners'....just less interested.

Last edited by OK465; 22nd Nov 2017 at 14:19.
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