The Air Force could bring back as many as 1,000 retired pilots for up to three years under a major expansion of a recall program, the White House announced Friday.

The executive order issued by President Trump represents a sweeping attempt to tackle the Air Force’s serious pilot shortage, which now amounts to roughly 1,500 pilots. The Air Force has struggled to hold on to its skilled pilots — especially fighter pilots — in the face of a massive hiring surge from commercial airlines, which offer far larger salaries than the military.

Under the previous executive order, only 25 retired pilots could come back each year. The new directive amends that order to temporarily remove that limit, according to a statement from Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross.

The change was made at the request of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and it gives him “additional authorities to recall retired aviation officers,” Ross said.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in July approved the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program, which sought 25 retired pilots to return to active duty to fill rated staff positions and help alleviate manning shortages within the pilot community.

Officials anticipate the Air Force will now be given the authority to “recall up to 1,000 retired pilots for up to three years,” Ross said.

Air Force leaders have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the pilot shortfall over the last year, and have taken several steps to try to correct it. The Air Force has upped monthly flight pay and offered massive, unprecedented retention bonuses of up to $455,000 to convince pilots to stay.

It has also created a task force headed by Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski with the sole mission of fixing the air crew crisis.

And it is trying to improve job satisfaction of pilots by adding more support staff to take on administrative duties and give them more time to fly, allowing them to stay in their current assignments longer, and eliminating unnecessary additional duties occupying their time.

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 He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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