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Air Force Increases Bonuses for Drone Pilots

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ditore, the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing command chief, right, cleans monitors with Senior Airman Robert as part of a preventative maintenance inspection. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Clausen)
Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ditore, the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing command chief, right, cleans monitors with Senior Airman Robert as part of a preventative maintenance inspection. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced an increase to the service's remotely piloted aircraft pilot bonus Aug. 10 in a multi-pronged approach to increase RPA manning and incentivize RPA pilots within a community that has operated at surge capacity for more than 10 years. As part of the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force's RPA "Get Well" plan, RPA pilots who have completed their initial active-duty service commitment from training starting in fiscal year 2016 will be eligible to receive a bonus of $35,000 per year, $10,000 more than the current bonus, in exchange for an additional active-duty service commitment. RPA pilots who previously accepted a bonus will also be eligible for the increase in exchange for an additional year on their service commitment. Specific contract details will be forthcoming over the next few weeks. "The Air Force recognizes the important contribution RPA pilots make every day, and retaining these valued aviators to execute our current operations and shape the future is critical," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David. L. Goldfein. "While we applaud this effort, we recognize we have similar challenges across our entire pilot force, and we'd like the opportunity to offer higher retention bonuses for all our pilots."  Currently, the Air Force is seeking legislation to fund an increase in aviation retention pay above the current limit of $25,000 per year for all pilots. This pay has not changed since 1999. "Money is important, but it isn't everything -- it isn't the be-all and end-all" James said. "As you've heard me say repeatedly, quality of life, quality of the work environment; these are also important factors. To that end, we will soon announce ways we will reduce assigned additional duties to give Airmen some of their precious time back. We are also working with Congress to ensure basic allowance for housing, which is a key factor for total compensation for military members, remains robust and does not change substantially for our Airmen." The Air Force's focus on improving retention and quality of life across the service has been a key priority for Air Force leadership with the expansion of selective reenlistment bonuses from 44 to 117 Air Force specialty codes, high year of tenure extensions for 122 specialties, and strong support of Defense Secretary Ash Carter's Force of the Future initiative, which included the extension of maternity leave

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