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CBO Testimony: Pilot Retention: Issues and Possible Solutions

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Congressional testimony

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The skills of military pilots are obviously essential to any mission employing combat air forces. Moreover, the role of pilots may grow in importance as the United States increases its use of air power in global peacekeeping missions. However, military pilot training is expensive. In addition, the services are finding it difficult to retain an adequate number of pilots. Both the Air Force and the Navy currently cite shortages of pilots that are expected to persist for the foreseeable future. The Navys shortfall is 1,077 pilots in 1999 it projects a smaller shortage of 825 pilots by 2002. In the Air Force, the shortage will worsen over the next several years, with estimated shortfalls of 1,354 pilots in 1999 and 1,943 pilots by 2002. However, those summary measures do not reflect other additional problems that may exist such as imbalances in the numbers of pilots in different pay grades or shortages of some types of pilots and surpluses of others. The problem of shortfalls in a services pilot requirements is not new. In 1988, the Navy had an estimated shortage of 1,242 pilots or 12 percent of requirements. That same year, the Air Force had a surplus of 120 pilots but projected a shortage of roughly 750 pilots for 1989. Today, both the Air Force and Navy are aggressively pursuing measures that they hope will eventually eliminate their shortages. Nevertheless, over the years, the record shows that the actions taken by the services have not always solved their pilot shortage problem. The existence of shortfalls today despite the services previous efforts suggests that it might be time to try something new. The Congressional Budget Office surveyed written sources and conducted interviews to assemble several alternatives that might aid the services in confronting their pilot shortages. The options offered here are the collective ideas of analysts from the Congressional Research Service, RAND, the Center for Naval Analyses, and the Congressional Budget Office.

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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