The United States Air Force is struggling with a shortage of fighter pilots as they are looking at a shortage of 700 of them by the end of 2016, according to Air Force officials. This number is estimated to grow to 1,000 by the end of 2022.
The lack of pilots shows an increase since March, as General Herbert Carlisle testified in front of Congress that the Air Force needed an additional 511 fighter pilots to properly carry out missions as the U.S. fights wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
“It is a crisis,” said the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David Goldfein at the annual “State of the Air Force” briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday. “Air superiority is not an American birthright. It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain.”
Goldfein added that extended separations from family as well as long overseas deployments and reduced flying time in the United States have deterred pilots from joining the Air Force.
The Air Force has had difficulty over the past several years as airlines are hiring pilots, promising them higher salaries and better benefits.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said on Wednesday that the Air Force intends to up the retention bonuses of airmen flying remotely piloted aircraft to $35,000 a year in an effort to get pilots to stay longer. It is expected this change will take place no later than October 1.
Currently, these airmen have retention bonuses of $25,000 a year, a number that hasn’t changed since 1999.
The Air Force is also hoping to increase retention bonuses for manned aircraft pilots, such as fighter pilots to $48,000 a year.
Besides just a pay boost for pilots, it is necessary to improve the “quality of service” so that pilots will have more time taking part in training while not in combat operations. He said that pilots receive roughly half the flight time and exercise operations that they would have gotten only a few decades ago.
“The reality is, pilots who don’t fly, maintainers who don’t maintain, controllers who don’t control are not going to stay with the company because we’re not allowing them to be the very best they can be,” Goldfein said.
He said that the pilot shortage isn’t affecting the United States operations overseas just yet, but the pilots continued service is affecting their decision to stay in the Air Force.