Military to Fighter Pilots: Why Are You Leaving Us?


An increasing number of American fighter pilots are apparently not feeling the need for speed and are trading in their flightsuits for airline uniforms.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says that the Air Force, Navy and Marines have seen fewer and fewer cockpits filled over the last five years. As of last year, the Air Force fighter pilot staffing level was at 87 percent, the Navy at 74 percent and the Marines at 93 percent -- amounting to hundreds of missing flyboys.


The report lamented that the military does not have data on where they're all are going, but it indicates the civilian airline industry is likely drawing them away with better pay and potentially a better lifestyle.

"While DOD [Department of Defense] and service officials assume a significant number of former military pilots are joining the airlines -- and they have requested increases to aviation retention bonus amounts specifically to be more competitive with the airlines -- they lack data to understand the full range of pilots’ post-service career preferences," the report says. "This limits DOD's ability to more fully understand pilots' decisions to remain in or leave the military."

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The report urged the services to collect more information on why their pilots are leaving, but in the meantime noted the efforts each is taking to retain the flyers, each of whom represents between 3 million and 11 million in taxpayer dollars in training.

To compete with private industry salaries, the services have offered financial compensation for those entering or re-upping as military pilots -- up to a bonus of $35,000 annually for the largest offer from the Air Force.

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Beyond that, the services identified a number of "non-monetary retention incentives focused on improving quality of life" as well, from reducing administrative duties in favor of more time in the air, more flexibility on where pilots can serve and more flexbility about their career path. Perhaps most importantly, they also studied ways to increase time at home.

The end of the GAO report notes that the services agreed with their recommendations to gather more information on why pilots are leaving, noting that they already collect some of that information through exit surveys.

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