Protecting the “Pipeline”: Overcoming the Air Force’s Pilot Shortage

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce the latest installment in its Mitchell Institute Policy Papers series, “Protecting the ‘Pipeline’: Overcoming the Air Force’s Pilot Shortage,” by Senior Visiting Fellow Michael C. Sirak and Maj Gen Lawrence A. Stutzriem, Mitchell’s director of research.

This new paper examines driving factors behind the dearth of trained, qualified Air Force pilots. The service is around 2,000 individuals short of its stated requirements, Sirak and Stutzriem write, and the crisis is at its worst in the fighter community, where there are around 1,300 empty pilot slots, a 25 percent vacancy. While the service has faced shortages before and is moving to increase pilot production, the current crisis is compounded by several factors, such as the lack of stable and predictable budgets from Congress and the impact of the Budget Control Act. With the service’s aircraft fleet at a record low number, pilots also find themselves deploying at a high, sustained rate to provide the necessary effects on a global basis. This has an adverse impact on quality of life, especially for airmen with families. Further compounding this situation, Air Force pilots are in high demand in the commercial sector as airlines seek to bolster their respective ranks.

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