According to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the USAF is seeking to boost the UAS (drone) pilots retention bonus by $10,000 and the manned pilot retention bonus by $23,000. However, the likelihood of that occurring in an election year is low.

The USAF is quickly losing its pilots to the airlines (and other key industries) and they are looking at increasing retention bonuses to stop the exodus. A projected 700 pilot shortfall is likely.

Drone pilot bonuses could increase from $25,000 a year to $35,000 a year. James also favors a raise in manned pilot bonuses from $25,000 a year to $48,000. That could translate to a whopping $432,000 for a nine year contract.

But money alone may not be enough to keep pilots around. Operational tempo has also had a significant impact and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Golden understands this–calling the pilot shortage a crisis.

“Here’s the reason I believe it’s a crisis: Air superiority is not an American birthright,” Goldfein said. “It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain. I’m hoping that if we take a balanced approach, we can get these folks to stay.”

The key factor to increasing the pilot bonus: Congress.

The retention bonus increases are subject to approval by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017. Unfortunately, with the low productivity of Congress during an election year, passage of the bill is probably not going to happen.

The NDAA must be approved in the same form by both the House and the Senate. Currently, the Senate has no provisions in its version of the NDAA for aviation retention bonuses. The House, on the other hand, has a provision for a $60,000 pilot bonus. But don’t hold your breath–that’s a lot of ground to cover on a compromised version—even during a non-election year.

The more realistic scenario is a CR or “continuing resolution”, which simply means current funding levels will stay the same and no new programs can begin. No Senate/House agreement on the NDAA–resulting in a CR–would impact more than 60 acquisition programs and new starts programs for the Air Force, including adjusting retention bonuses.

So who benefits from a CR?

You guessed it: Congress. A CR provides enough funding that the government (or in this case the DoD) does not shut down–avoiding a politically fatal event. Additionally, no increased spending or new programs means Senators and Representatives do not have to defend themselves at the ballot box for not being budget conscious. Nor do they have to debate, analyze, and most importantly vote on a full budget. Instead, they can concentrate on one of their favorite things: campaigning!

As the old saying in Washington, D.C. goes, “You can’t save the world unless you save your seat first”.

If Congress does not come through with a final NDAA, maybe some USAF pilots will do the exact opposite of their Congressional leaders and give up their seats instead of trying to save them.

You can read Richard Sisk’s full article here.

Top Photo credit: ABC News