The U.S. Air Force is losing its pilots to lucrative airline jobs, according to a report in this week’s Air Force Times, and that’s likely to continue if the military pilots don’t get more flight time and upgraded airplanes. “We are seeing an Air Force that is back on its heels,” John Venable, a former F-16 pilot, told the Times. “They’re all on the back side of the power curve.” Part of the problem is that the “mission-capable” status of aircraft is deteriorating, with fewer than half of the F-22 Raptor fleet ready to fly. Maintenance workers are scarce, with a shortfall of about 200 positions, and many of the workers now on staff have minimal experience. Top-ranked maintainers, who can supervise and sign off on work, are in “alarmingly” short supply, according to the Times.
The Air Force is currently about 2,000 pilots short, and many pilots are getting fewer flying hours than they should to maintain their skills. “Flying hours is the big one. That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Venable said. “They fly four times a month, or five times a month, and that’s what you’re going to give them? Why would anybody want to stay in that force?” To fix the situation, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, former head of Air Combat Command, told the Times: “We need to buy more airplanes, we need to increase our end strength, and we need to modernize and recapitalize our fleet.”