This is a topic we’ve touched on quite a bit in the past few months. The Air Force continues to hemorrhage talent from its community of pilots, but here’s a little known fact: the exodus is impacting the Air Force Reserve even more than it is on the active duty side. The reason boils down to all the things we’ve talked about before: time away from family, queep, and money. The airlines pay…and pay well, have good benefits, and a good retirement.
The Air Force is struggling to keep its pilots, who can often find better wages in the private sector. But the retention issue is more complex for the Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Brian Neal told the House defense appropriations subcommittee on March 22.
“The Air Force either has a pilot or it doesn’t,” said Neal, acting director of the Air Guard. The active-duty component “does not have an airline pilot, it has a military pilot. We have [both] military pilots and airline pilots.”
On the active side, the Air Force needs to re-evaluate how best to retain its pilots in the face of increasingly stiff competition for the most qualified people. That struggle has prompted the service to offer retention bonuses ranging from $75,000 to $225,000 for a five or nine-year commitment.
But a commercial pilot doesn’t have to deal with four- or six-month deployments overseas, which can be enticing, particularly for service members with families. Major airlines such as Delta or Southwest are willing to pay handsomely for a pilot with more than 1,500 flying hours and 10 or more years of flying experience. After a few years in the commercial aviation industry, pilots can make more than $190,000 a year, plus 401(k) contributions.
Knowing their pilots have two jobs, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve officials are struggling to come up with the best retention strategy, but their focus is more on the “who,” rather than the ‘how,” Neal said.
“Our biggest concern is not retaining pilots, it’s retaining the full-time pilots,” he said. “You can compare the pay stubs. The airlines are making billions of dollars. We don’t pay enough.”