—Rachel S. Cohen
1st Lt. Jake Brodacz, 62nd Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II student pilot, prepares an F-35 to taxi to the runway at Luke AFB, Ariz., on Dec. 19, 2017. Air Force photo by SSgt. Jensen Stidham.
Another round of bonus pay for aviators announced this week continues the Air Force’s effort to entice pilots to remain in the service.
The Air Force is offering bomber, fighter, mobility, special operations pilots, and remotely piloted aircraft operators a maximum of $420,000 over 12 years to continue flying, the service said in a Jan. 23 press release. Those service members are eligible for an extra $35,000 annually if they extend their contracts by three to 12 years. To qualify, they must be Active Duty aviators whose initial undergraduate flight training ends this fiscal year.
Bomber, fighter, and mobility pilots also have the option of receiving $100,000 up front if they sign up for another seven to nine years, or $200,000 for 10 to 12 years.
For combat search-and-rescue operators in fixed-wing aircraft, as well as those who fly command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms, bonuses can total $30,000 each year for a three- to nine-year extension, or $35,000 annually for 10 to 12 additional years. A lump sum of $100,000 is also available for those who sign up for another seven to nine years.
Rotary-wing CSAR pilots, combat systems officers, and air battle managers can tap into the lowest two bonus levels. Those who fly platforms like the HH-60G Pave Hawk may receive up to $225,000, or $25,000 annually for three to nine years. Combat systems officers and air battle managers would earn that same amount if they extend their contract for seven to nine years, or make up to $120,000 if they fly as many as six more years.
The bonus structure is slightly different for aviators whose contracts have expired or who haven’t accepted the extra money before.
All rated pilots that fall into that category, including RPA operators, can fly for another three to nine years and receive $25,000 to $35,000 annually, depending on their career. Those airmen cannot fly longer than 24 years total.
Combat systems officers and air battle managers in that category can earn up to $100,000 over five years. They must have accrued at least 19 years of total active federal military service but, like pilots, cannot exceed 24 years in aviation.
“Congress raised the annual maximum aviation bonus from $25,000 to $35,000 in the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and required the Air Force to present aviation bonuses based on a business case analysis,” the service said in the release. “The Air Force evaluates its rated inventory every year to ensure the AvB program is tailored to meet the service’s needs."
As the Air Force tries to reverse its shortage of around 2,000 pilots within the next five years, it is experimenting with 69 initiatives to boost retention. In addition to bonus packages, the service is inviting retired pilots to return, reforming its officer assignment process, discussing possible collaborations with commercial airlines that attract military pilots, and more.
Airmen can apply for fiscal 2019 bonuses until Aug. 30. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
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