(Image source: Unites States Air National Guard)

USAF take rates continue to drop despite retainment bonuses

Despite the May 2018 decision to increase the cap for pilot retainment bonuses – or “take rates” – the United States Air Force (USAF) is still suffering from a major pilot shortage, especially regarding mobility pilots. The decision to broaden pilot eligibility for the $420,000 bonus previously reserved for fighter pilots resulted in a 37.9 percent take rate for mobility pilots, down nearly 10 percent from 2016, and far short of the yearly USAF retainment goal of 65 percent.

Although the USAF bonus stemmed the percentage drop in take rates, with 45 percent in 2018 versus 44 percent in 2017, the pool of eligible candidates has been shrinking. In 2017, 476 pilots agreed to take the retainment bonuses, while only 418 pilots took the deal this year.

Overall, the drop in take rate included pilots that fly in mobility, bomber, search-and-rescue, special operations, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) squadrons. USAF officials are looking at a deficit of approximately 2,000 fliers or nearly 10 percent of its active duty pilots, many of which are opting for careers in the commercial airline market, which is currently experiencing an upswing in the improving economy.

Read more: Working pilot recruitment from all angles

Among the other takes rates, rescue pilots dropped 5 percentage points to 70.7 percent, special operations pilots dropped 5.2 percentage points to 54 percent, and unmanned aerial vehicle pilots dropped 4.8 percentage points to 59.5 percent - although, the latter two witnessed a significant increase in 2017 and pilot numbers for those categories are above what they were in 2016.

Reports saw that 37 pilots to 10- to 12-year service commitments (the longest option), while 264 pilots signed on for seven to nine more years and 117 agreed to four to six more years.

However, with the overall number of fighter pilots accepting bonuses dropped from 122 in 2017 to 72 in 2018, it suggests fewer fighter pilots were eligible for retention bonuses.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.
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