A Plan for Keeping the U.S. Air Force's Best Pilots in Service

U.S. Air Force attack aircraft A-10 "Thunderbolt" pilot reacts as he takes part in a landing exercise on a motorway near Jagala, Estonia, August 10, 2017.

The U.S. Air Force needs to make pilot service more competitive and rewarding.

If the Air Force is going to avoid the mop-grabbing mode in the future, it needs to begin their retention efforts the moment a pilot leaves flight school. People are smart; they know when they are valued, and when an organization feigns interest up until a crisis. The current bonus system begins only when pilots are approaching their option to leave. The Air Force should increase flight pay to a point where pilots feel valued from the moment they leave flight school until they are eligible for the bonus—and the service should sustain those pay and bonus levels throughout their flying careers.

While the moves suggested above may seem costly, the alternatives are staggering. It cost $6 million a year to train an Air Force fighter pilot in 2013. Pilots receive a ten-year service commitment on graduation from flight school. If it cost the service several million to retain a $60 million talent for another ten years, it would more than pay for itself on paper, while elevating the competency, cohesion and combat capability of our fighter force.

John Venable is a senior research fellow for defense policy at the Heritage Foundation.

Image: Reuters

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