Fewer pilots of manned aircraft accepted bonuses to stay in the cockpit for years more in fiscal 2019.
According to statistics released by the Air Force Friday, 285 manned pilots last year accepted aviation bonuses worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, in exchange for service commitments of up to 12 years under the Aviation Bonus Program. That is down from the 330 pilots of manned aircraft who accepted the bonuses in fiscal 2018.
The percentage of eligible manned pilots agreeing to the bonuses — the so-called “take rate” — dipped slightly from 45 percent in 2018 to 44 percent in 2019. That brings take rates back to where they were in 2017, but still well below the 55 percent take rate in 2015 and 48 percent in 2016. The Air Force did not break out these statistics by the type of pilot, such as fighter, bomber or mobility pilots.
However, more remotely piloted aircraft pilots are taking these bonuses — 104 in 2019, versus 88 in 2018. RPA pilots’ take rate of 59.8 percent in 2019 was virtually unchanged from the previous year.
The take rates for all pilots throughout the fleet remain well below the 65 percent the Air Force said in previous years it hoped would take the bonuses.
In a June 25 interview, Maj. Gen. Jake Jacobson, director of the Air Force’s aircrew crisis task force, said that while manned pilot bonus take rates remained virtually flat from 2017 to 2019, it’s too early to tell whether that will continue this year. Pilots have until the end of September decide whether to take the bonus, he said, but the acceptance is largely tracking with what the Air Force expected.
“But there will also be a fair number of decisions made in the last quarter of the fiscal year, as folks look at the outside world, and look at their time in the Air Force, and try and weigh what’s in their family’s best interest,” Jacobson said.
The Air Force also said there were 127 combat systems officers who took the bonus, or about 71 percent of all who were eligible, and 65 air battle managers who accepted them, for a take rate of 69 percent.
Overall, 581 airmen took part in the Aviation Bonus Program, or 53 percent of the 1,095 who were eligible.
For the 2020 bonus program, for which airmen started being able to apply the last week of January, the bonus options for 11B bomber pilots, 11F fighter pilots and 11M mobility pilots remain unchanged from past year. As in 2019, those pilots can sign a contract to serve three to 12 more years, and get a $35,000 bonus each year, for a maximum bonus of $420,000. They also can get a lump sum, up-front payment of $100,000 for signing a seven- to nine-year contract, or a $200,000 up-front payment for signing on for 10 to 12 more years, the Air Force said.
The same bonuses apply for 11S special operations pilots, but the lump-sum option is new this year.
For 11R intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pilots and 11H fixed-wing combat search and rescue pilots, they can now receive annual $30,000 bonuses for signing contracts of three to six more years, or $35,000 bonuses for seven to 12 more years. These are more generous options than last year, when those pilots’ $30,000 bonus was for three- to nine-year commitments, and their $35,000 bonus was for 10 to 12-year commitments.
ISR and fixed-wing CSAR pilots can also get a lump-sum $100,000 payment up front for agreeing to serve 10 to 12 more years. These are stricter requirements than last year, when signing up for seven to nine more years was enough to qualify for that up-front payment.
18X RPA pilots can get the same bonuses as ISR and fixed-wing CSAR pilots. But those bonuses, in one way, are less generous than last year, when they could get $35,000 a year for signing up for anywhere from three to 12 more years. However, the lump-sum option is new for RPA pilots this year.
11H CSAR rotary wing pilots can get $25,000 a year for signing up for three to six more years, and $30,000 a year for signing up for seven to 12 more years. That is more generous than last year, when they could only get $25,000 for signing up for three to nine more years, and there was no $30,000 a year option.
Bonuses for 12X combat systems officers and 13B air battle managers remained unchanged from last year, at $20,000 per year for three to six more years, and $25,000 per year for seven to nine more years.
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.