Air Force Shells Out Huge Bonuses To Keep Pilots Amid Severe Personnel Shortage

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. Air Force is issuing $50,000 bonuses to experienced pilots who opt to renew their contracts in the midst of a severe shortage of personnel to fill its highest-skill officer positions.

The program applies to certain pilots whose active duty commitment expires in 2023, bumping up the usual bonus they would receive for extending their Air Force careers from $35,000 to $50,000, according to an Air Force press release. Applications opened on Tuesday for the boosted Legacy Aviation Bonus Program to help the Air Force retain so-called “rated” officers as the force has struggled with a severe pilot shortage in recent years, according to

“Reliable personnel forecasts allow the Air Force to continue executing the warfighting mission,” Maj. Gen. Albert Miller, Air Force Training and Readiness director, said in the statement. “Our experienced aviators are uniquely qualified to succeed in a combat environment and these incentives are necessary to maintain that talent and competitiveness with our pacing challenge,” referring to China. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: US Air Force Ran A Social Experiment To Graduate More Minority Pilots. It Didn’t Go As Planned)

Remote piloted aircraft pilots, air battle managers and combat systems officers are eligible to apply through Sept. 15, according to the press release. However, pilots who have received a bonus through a previous contract agreement will not be able to negotiate and the extra bonus will not be offered next year.

Fiscal year 2023, which ends Sept. 31, “will be a transition year for the Air Force,” the press release stated.

In the last decade, the Air Force has fallen somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 pilots short of requirements each year, reported. Recruiting numbers worsened across the military in 2022 amid what officials called the most difficult recruiting environment in decades.

“We do have a [pilot] shortage,” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said at a budget briefing in March, according to, adding that the Air Force is trying out several routes including bonuses to mitigate the problem. “We’re having to try to improve the efficiency of the pipeline to get more people in. The reserve and Guard equation is a little more complicated, but we do have some shortages there that we’re trying to address as well.”

Kendall separately said the service expects a 10% recruiting shortfall for active-duty airmen in 2023 at an Air and Space Force Association summit in March. The Guard and Reserve forces could see up to a 30% new recruit shortage, Air Force Recruiting Service Commander Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas told the outlet in May.

Other armed services are doubling down efforts to meet recruiting goals as it becomes increasingly less certain the post-COVID challenges hampering their ability to attract new troops have abated.

The Army plans to expand its pre-boot camp training program, the original Future Soldier Preparatory Course (FSPC), in June and add a separate pilot program for new recruits whose ASVAB scores are even lower than the minimum to qualify for the FSPC, which was introduced in August, according to

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