Air Force Pilots Cite Family Concerns

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Air Force pilots have told their commanders that the needs of families have to take a higher priority if they want to attract and retain aircrew. The Air Force is bleeding pilots to the airlines as a worldwide pilot shortage takes hold and the Air Force Times reported this week that jet jockeys want help keeping the home fires burning. In April, the Air Force invited input from pilots on changes that would keep them in uniform and family issues dominated the 600 responses received. Pilots want the needs of spouses and children to be a consideration in their duty assignments and when they are deployed they want time before and after their tours to ensure life goes on smoothly at home. “We want the airmen’s input to be in the lead here. They’re the folks who are experiencing this day in and day out,” said Brig. Gen. Samuel Mahaney, deputy director for operations of the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. “We need to demonstrate to airmen they are valued, heard, and, wherever possible, enhance quality of service and quality of life for our airmen and their families. Their voice in this process is critical." 

Making peace with its current pilots is only part of the strategy to tackle the pilot shortfall, which exceeds 1,000 now and is expected to rise. On May 18, senior officers met with representatives from major and regional airlines to discuss ways to help each other keep the flow of new pilots healthy. And even though it offers opportunities to fly the hottest, most high-tech equipment on the planet, the Air Force says one of the things the industry as a whole needs to do is make aviation cool again. "We are working hard to find ways to start conversations and develop a curiosity and passion for aviation that will span future generations,” said Gen. Carlton Everhart of the Air Mobility Command. “There is a need to re-energize a nationwide interest in flying as an occupation. Partnering with Civil Air Patrol, ROTC and across industry is critically important. Getting people enthusiastic about aviation and into the air needs to be a collective nationwide campaign."

Comments (11)

If the Air Force wanted you to have a family, they'd have been in your barracks bag.

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | June 4, 2017 7:54 PM    Report this comment

If people cannot or are unable to do it, this will bring automated systems forward faster. "Pilot optional" or full autonomous like that Navy XB-47 type thing, lands itself on a carrier.

Posted by: Peter Hamilton | June 4, 2017 8:39 PM    Report this comment

Maybe they should look into physiological requirements, while they're at it. Ever had allergies since age 12? Disqualified. Congenital conditions that are completely asymptomatic before age 60, every time? Disqualified. Wear glasses for anything more than mild nearsightedness? Disqualified.

Not saying there shouldn't be medical requirements, especially for fighters, but come on. Something like half the population is disqualified from even flying transports.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | June 4, 2017 8:40 PM    Report this comment

I grew up shortly after World War II. TV was mostly nonexistent and where it did exist it was little black and white screens with only a few shows on at a time in major cities like NYC. Major entertainment came in movie theaters where full color features were surrounded by newsreels and many of the stories were about WW II. Fighter pilots were the great heroes of the era and I wanted to be one when I grew up. Today bombing is not about winning a war but instead about terrorism. The only movies out of Hollywood that involve fighters and pilots has them on interstellar battle ships fighting to dominate the universe. This kind of science fiction is entertaining but isn't close enough to reality to get youngsters to say "That is what I want to do when I grow up".

To understand why there is a shortage of youngsters interested in becoming pilots I only need to look to Hollywood.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | June 5, 2017 4:13 AM    Report this comment

The military officers who fly in the USAF are being paid handsomely already between salaries and bonuses and perks and post military career opportunities. Many are graduates of the USAF Academy -- having been given a 'free' education -- as well. They are a coddled bunch who now want still more. Give me a break. If they had to endure the "real" hardships that the enlisted folks who take care of their jets, et al, endure ... they'd probably die?

I "get" that a great deal was spent on their flying education and ongoing readiness and currency but they now want more. Sorry ... no compassion here. First they moan that they're not flying enough. Then, they moan because they're away from home too much. Stop moaning, boys. Suck it up.

The first cadre of enlisted pilots for drones is now in the pipeline ... predominantly because "real" fighter pilots don't want to fly drones and it's bad on their career resumes.. Fine. I believe it's time to reinstitute the flying sergeants ... as we had in WWII. These days, more enlisted folks are educated or have flying credentials ... why not tap them? At least give the idea a try. Let the officers compete for the flight billets.

Ever since the three USAF operational commands ... SAC, TAC and ADC ... were disbanded with the 'fighter mafia' taking over ... all they do is moan.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | June 5, 2017 12:26 PM    Report this comment

I wonder if it is also the strain of perpetual wars with no end in sight, a war goal undefined and a Congress full of mealy mouthed liars too busy with trans-to-whatever-gender rights. Our fighting men and women need to understand why they are firing $50,000 rockets at a pile of rocks other than winning the hearts and minds. Our nation learned ZERO from killing 56,000 Americans in Vietnam. The politicians are different, the corruption sure is not.

Posted by: bruce postlethwait | June 5, 2017 6:38 PM    Report this comment

First, it is not a free education. A free education is where you have no future obligations. They have future obligations, so it is not free.

The same students that can get into the air force academy, have the same grades, SAT scores and personal ambitions to go to any college and get a full "free" ride scholarship, with no future obligations, now that is free.

Second, they are not asking for more money, but family stability that they can get in the private work force. Being transferred from base to base is very difficult on the whole family. Having children being moved from school to school and having them to try to make new friends makes the family life more stressful. Not being able to help your wife with car problems who is stuck in the Target parking while you are deployed makes you undependable (in her eyes).

Being exceptionally smart, they understand that they can make more money, have a better and more stable family life if they leave. I am amazed so many stay in as long as they have.

Posted by: Mike K | June 5, 2017 6:38 PM    Report this comment

@Mike: "First, it is not a free education. A free education is where you have no future obligations. They have future obligations, so it is not free."

Indeed, it is not free. With a permanent commission, your service is "indefinite;" however, each milestone of your career comes with a hook (and rightfully so; after all we are investing in each officer). Active duty officers incur additional mandatory service each time they are promoted; each time their family is moved; for various advanced officer training schools etc. You can leave anytime, provided you don't have any further service obligation (and you get approval based on the needs of your service).

Posted by: DON HUDDLER | June 5, 2017 8:51 PM    Report this comment

Meanwhile, the maintenance personnel shortage is even bigger. Regardless of whether there's a pilot in the seat, the ground crews do the hard time overseas and their families suffer too. Hear us complaining? Oh, sure, here's some more 12s, weekend duty, deployments, etc.etc. The perpetual wars are having their effect alright. All the reasons I got out.

Posted by: RJ Horacek | June 6, 2017 9:00 AM    Report this comment

General Everhart brings up an interesting subject. Since I do not have any military service I cannot comment on the military side of aviation. The airlines have a long way to go if they are to make aviation occupations "cool" again. People are getting smart in that they are not willing to make the sacrifices needed to stay in aviation when the business end doesn't think twice about throwing away talent and not paying people what the responsibilities deserve. The proposed privatization of ATC with the airlines dominating any operating board just goes to show that the airlines still have not learned that their own actions are driving away prospective candidates from starting flight training. Although I will never see a real pilot shortage in my lifetime, I would not be surprised if 20 years from now there is one and there will be no-one else to blame than the airlines themselves.

Posted by: matthew wagner | June 6, 2017 7:07 PM    Report this comment

Supply and demand, the military has the supply as viewed by the commercial sector's demand. The military touts job training and education opportunities in their recruiting commercials. It shouldn't be a surprise that once trained with a marketable skill the warriors opt to capitalize on their talents. Having experienced nearly 3 decades of the military life I empathize with the hardships mentioned above. With an all volunteer force we have to expect the military members to migrate based on what they and their families can endure/tolerate. Anyone who believes they're spoiled and should put up with about anything, knows not of what they speak. The military have an unlimited liability clause to protect and defend our way of life. They're free to end the contract when they've met their service obligations.

With regard to developing a passion for aviation, the military should have considered that when they nearly decimated the USAF Aero Clubs five years ago. Some of the remaining clubs are barely hanging on because of a lack of support. Those clubs cranked out a number of current aircrew and UAS operators with their PPL and Instrument ratings. The infrastructure is still there. How about an investment to build them up and renew the mission Gen. Curtis Lemay envisioned for them. Make the Aero Clubs great again Gen. Everhart.

Whoever said above the academy education is free is again speaking without fact. We sent our son off to an academy with a sizeable check in his pocket to pay the in-processing, equipment expenses, etc. When the service choose to send him to medical school they gave him 10 schools for interviews. The service didn't pay those travel expenses. Mom & dad paid them. Then came the decades long commitment. If it were really free, everyone would do it.

The bottom line, if you haven't lived the military life your opinion(s) is/are just that. With the ever shrinking force structure we're asking more of those remaining. IMHO the fix is to increase the numbers to spread the burden. We're not in the death spiral but the bank angle needs correcting and soon.

Posted by: Robert Mahoney | June 7, 2017 1:31 PM    Report this comment

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