The Air Force is increasing monthly flight pay for both officers and enlisted air crew as part of a broader effort to hold on to valuable pilots.
In a gaggle with reporters Friday, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that beginning Oct. 1, monthly Air Crew Incentive Pay — the new name for flight pay — will increase from $840 a month for officers to up to $1,000 a month.
On the enlisted side, maximum aircrew pay will go up from $400 monthly to $600 a month.
This is the first time the Air Force has increased flight pay since 1999, Wilson said.
This month, the Air Force is also expanding the eligibility for its Aviation Bonus Program, Wilson said, to include airmen who are not currently under service contracts, those who have never signed up for a retention bonus in the past, and those whose contracts may have expired.
The Aviation Bonus Program offers retention bonuses of up to $35,000 per year to entice pilots to stay in the Air Force for up to 13 more years. Those retention bonuses can be worth up to $455,000 over the life of their contract extension.
Wilson said the Air Force is also planning to bring back up to 25 retired pilots to serve in critical rated staff positions under a new Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty program.
“We have a number of positions around the Air Force that require the expertise of someone who has been a military pilot, and we’d like to be able to keep our pilots who are current in the aircraft, in the aircraft, and try to fill some of these vital flight slots with people who have the experience needed but who have subsequently retired from the service,” Wilson said.
Those retired pilots would return for 12-month stints in staff positions, she said. The Air Force said that retired pilots from the 11X career field would be eligible.
As large parts of the airline industry’s pilot corps reach the mandatory retirement age of 65, the airlines have increased their recruitment of military pilots. The fact that military pilots can fly airliners with just 750 flight hours, instead of the 1,500 hours normally required, makes them especially attractive to recruiters.
As a result, the Air Force has been struggling to reverse an exodus of experienced pilots, especially in the fighter community.
Wilson said that the Air Force has just put Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski in charge of its Air Crew Crisis Task Force, which is focused on solving the pilot retention problem. This is the first time a general officer has been in charge of this task force.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.