The Air Force is facing such a flight of pilots from the service that it’s considering forcing some to stay in the service against their will by means of a contract stipulation known as “stop-loss.”
The stop-loss option is one of several on the table for discussion at a meeting of Air Force generals scheduled for May 18, one senior Air Force general told Roll Call. Generals plan to discuss means of stemming the loss of pilots without having to resort to the stop-loss option, which allows the service to retain pilots past the time they have agreed to serve, but maintain use of the option is a real possibility.
The loss of pilots is most pronounced among those who fly fighter jets, and has the potential to compromise the fight against the Islamic State.
“If I don’t have pilots to fly, the enemy has a vote, and if I can’t put warheads on foreheads, then [ISIS] is winning,” Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, chief of Air Mobility Command, told Roll Call.
Many of the Air Force pilots leave in search of work in the private sector airline industry, so the meeting at Andrews will include airline executives.
“I said to the industry … if we can’t meet the requirements, the chief could drop in a stop-loss — and you need to understand that,” Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, chief of Air Mobility Command, told Roll Call.
The problem of a pilot shortage is not new. In January, the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff admitted as much during a conference at Nellis Air Force Base.
“The health of the fighter pilot community is bad,” Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland said at the conference, according to Fox News. “We focus on fighter pilots, but it’s not just [them]. We have a national pilot crisis. Essentially the Air Force, when it comes to pilot production, is going to have to change.”
The Air Force is already following a strategy to get back on track that includes reducing fighter pilot requirements, trying to persuade pilots not to leave the service and recruiting more pilots.
Everhart said the root of the crisis is not that airlines can offer better salaries, but that Air Force overtime demands in the post-9/11 environment have put a severe strain on pilots and their families. And as more pilots leave, the remaining pilots have to pick up the slack, compounding the problem.
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