Accession Number:



Breaking the Change Barrier: A 40 Year Analysis of Air Force Pilot Retention Solutions

Descriptive Note:

[Technical Report, Master's Thesis]

Corporate Author:

Air Command and Staff College, Air University

Personal Author(s):

Report Date:


Pagination or Media Count:



Several times in Air Force history, the service endured large numbers of pilot separations directly affecting organizational readiness and thereby national defense. A problemsolution research methodology using the organizational management theory of path dependence explored the implications of the corrective leadership decisions. Exit survey data from the 1970s, 1990s, and 2017 and the subsequent documented Air Force efforts to stem the exodus, when linearly charted, showed evidence of organizational lock-in. Past strategic personnel decisions affected by organizational self-reinforcing mechanisms prevented leadership from taking truly innovative measures to change the course and break the cycle of pilot exodus. The identification of organizational lock-in provides leaders a larger temporal frame of reference with which to make strategic decisions. One recommendation to remedy pilot exodus is to start the incentive process earlier in the career and prior to the final decision to separate. Path dependent analysis indicates all prior Air Force retention actions were reactionary. Preemptive action, and not solely monetary action, provides several benefits to both the Air Force and the individual pilot. The pilot gains increased quality of life satisfaction because of a greater sense of stability from the guaranteed various incentive options and personal involvement in the overall process. The Air Force can annually budget and forecast incentive requirements and personnel movements based on the earlier decisions of pilots. Secondary effects of this innovative change include increased commitment from pilots, increased quality of life for pilots, predictability for the Air Force, and retention of critical experience.

Subject Categories:

  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations

Distribution Statement:

[A, Approved For Public Release]