In the face of an alarming shortfall of pilots, the Air Force is trying to boost how many new pilots it produces each year.
But with the resources it has now, Air Education and Training Command head Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson said Wednesday, there’s no way the Air Force can produce as many pilots as it needs.
The Air Force turned out 1,100 new pilots last year, is on track to produce about 1,200 in 2017, and is expected to hit 1,400 new pilots in the next few years, Roberson said.
But that will max out the Air Force’s pilot production capacity, Roberson said. And in the future, the Air Force might need to graduate at least 1,600 pilots each year just to keep up.
“We are going to have to figure out a way to produce pilots that is outside the resource capacity of the United States Air Force,” Roberson said.
It would take a considerable investment to be able to reach 1,600 new pilots a year, he said. The Air Force would need more instructor pilots, more planes ― and more students interested in and willing to learn how to fly.
“We‘re maximizing the use of our air frames to the fullest extent that we can right now,” he said. “We can only produce so many flying training sorties per day, and that’s going to be exceeded.”
The Air Force has asked Congress for more funding to boost pilot production capacity, Roberson said.
But the lack of pilot production isn’t only an Air Force problem, Roberson said. It’s a problem faced by the entire United States ― as the commercial airline industry’s zeal to recruit Air Force pilots shows ― as well as other nations such as the United Kingdom.
It’s going to take a unified national effort to try to fix that shortfall once and for all, he said.
“What we are asking for is a comprehensive approach by the nation to get at how to produce the number of pilots we need for our country,” Roberson said. “That could be a national pilot training academy that is partially funded by airlines and industry and the military, as well as anybody else who wants to be a part of that. We produce pilots to a certain standard, and then some go into the military first with a guaranteed follow-on, perhaps, to the airlines. We have to build a construct, as a nation, on how we‘re going to get at producing the number of pilots we need long-term.”
The Air Force has also recently stood up an Aircrew Crisis Task Force, headed by Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, to try to find other ways to tackle this issue.
“We are looking at everything that could possibly help us with decreasing the shortage that we have,” Roberson said. “This crisis action team is considering any and all options on the table.”
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.