Air Force Is Offering Up to $600,000 in New Bonuses to Keep Experienced Aviators on the Job

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U.S. Air Force Capt. James Mizell, 510th Fighter Squadron pilot, and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brice Hixon, 510th Fighter Generation Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief, communicate to each other before a takeoff for the Agile Combat Employment Exercise Fighting Wyvern at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
U.S. Air Force Capt. James Mizell, 510th Fighter Squadron pilot, and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brice Hixon, 510th Fighter Generation Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief, communicate to each other before a takeoff for the Agile Combat Employment Exercise Fighting Wyvern at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Dec. 11, 2023. (Airman 1st Class Zachary Jakel/U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force is dangling another round of hefty bonuses that could range anywhere from $45,000 to $600,000 as an incentive for experienced aviators to stay in the service.

It builds upon similar bonuses offered over the past year amid a pilot shortage as the Pentagon and the Department of the Air Force continue their heated competition with China and as threats continue to grow in the Pacific, Middle East and Europe.

"In today's strategic environment, the requirement to preserve critical skills in our Air Force has never been more important," Maj. Gen. Adrian Spain, the director of training and readiness and deputy chief of staff for operations at Air Force Headquarters, said in a Nov. 30 press release. "Retaining these professional aviators' experience and expertise within the total force is imperative in order to outpace future challenges that may emerge throughout the spectrum of conflict."

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The Air Force's issue with pilot recruitment, training and retention is not new. The service has struggled with a pilot shortage for nearly a decade, often landing anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 aviators shy of requirements, Military.com has previously reported.

To keep those pilots who already have been trained and know their airframes, the service has again offered some high-level incentives. The fiscal 2024 Experienced Aviator Retention Incentive and Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Bonus programs offer $15,000 to $50,000 a year for contracts from three to 12 years of service depending on their aircraft and commitment terms, according to the Air Force.

There are also non-monetary incentives offered, such as "an assignment of choice, assignment declination, or remain in place" for existing aviators, the service added.

The Experienced Aviator Retention Incentive is available for active-duty Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. The Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Bonus Program will be available only to certain active-duty Air Force rated officers, the service said.

Active-duty aviators have until Aug. 1, 2024, to apply for the new bonuses or until the service runs out of money in the program. Guard and reserve pilots have until Dec. 31 to apply for the current bonuses.

Military.com reported in late September that the Air Force would miss the projected number of new pilots it hoped to train in fiscal 2023, which ended at the end of September, falling roughly 100 aviators short of its goals at least partly due to mechanical issues with training aircraft.

The new bonuses also come as the Air Force, as a whole, struggles with its toughest recruiting environment in decades. This past fiscal year, the service missed its enlisted active-duty recruiting goals for the first time since 1999, getting only 24,100 enlisted airmen of the 26,877 it needed.

Related: Air Force on Course to Again Miss Pilot Goal as Problems with Training Aircraft Persist

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