Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein says a pilot shortage, compounded by an aging aircraft fleet, affects readiness and that ultimately means more airman will die in combat. “I will tell you that the cost of not having the right level of readiness is it will take longer to win — we will win, but it will take longer, and less airmen will come home,” Goldfein told the San Antonio News Express. “And we just need to be sure we’re clear-eyed as a nation. That ought to be unacceptable, and it’s certainly unacceptable to me as a chief to ever send an airman in harm’s way without being fully ready. But the reality is, if the nation calls on its Air Force to go, we’ll go, just like those who’ve gone before us.” Just throwing money at the problems won’t be a complete solution. “We’re not going to buy our way out of this,” Goldfein said. “You’ve got airlines that are hiring at a rate that we haven’t actually seen in the past and offering significant salaries,” he said. “But that’s compounded with a force that’s increasingly stressed coming out of 26 years of continuous conflict.”
Congress recently increased the annual retention bonus for Air Force pilots from $25,000 to $35,000. Last year less than half of eligible pilots accepted the bonus but money wasn’t the only reason they want to leave the service. Goldfein said the Air Force demands a lot of new pilots and piles on duties most intensely dislike, leaving them little “white space on the calendar” for family and friends. The extra money isn’t enough to compensate for that and the result is a shortage of 1,500 pilots that’s expected to grow. “Clearly, we appreciate Congress’ support to up the bonus; we haven’t done that in years, and so if we can take financial burdens off a family, help with school, do those things, then clearly that, I think, is an incentive. So it’s not insignificant that we are actually raising the bonus, but that’s not going to do it by itself,” he said.