Former Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein publicly called the service's pilot shortage a crisis in 2016 when the Air Force had a deficit of 1,500 pilots. Today, the gap is 2,100 pilots. The global pandemic and subsequent impacts on the airline industry will result in more pilots remaining in the service, for now. However, in the next few years, over 20,000 airline pilots will reach the mandatory age limit of 65 and will have to be replaced. The Air Force has a short window of opportunity to make longer military service more attractive to its pilots. Retention is critical because of the massive investment of resources to train a combat-ready pilot and because the Air Force needs its experienced pilots to take on advanced leadership and management roles. This report proposes three ways the Air Force and Congress can increase pilots' career satisfaction and gain longer service commitments without additional outlays. These recommendations increase a pilot's agency inside the Air Force while giving the service more stability and predictability in its pilot manning.
This report was made possible by the generous support of the Department of the Air Force.