Air Force pilot shortage has grown, is ‘stretching the force to the limit’

Capt. Roland Neal, 37th Flying Training Squadron Instructor Pilot, grabs his gear after a flight June 28, 2017, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb/U.S. Air Force

Nov. 10 (UPI) — The pilot shortage that has dogged the U.S. Air Force has gotten worse as the service’s top officials say the shortage has surged to about 2,000 airmen.

In September, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Goldfein told attendees at the annual Air Crew Summit at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland that the service is “in a crisis” that could compromise its ability to defend the nation. According to Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, it’s gotten worse.

“Last summer, we were reporting to people that we were about 1,500 pilots short in the Air Force — and we expected it to get worse,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters on Thursday. “Almost 2,000 pilots short of a force that has 20,000 pilots, so that’s one in 10 that we’re short.”

At the Air Crew Summit, Goldfein challenged presenters and leaders in September to develop new and creative solutions for problems such as pilot training limitations, filling staff positions and retaining personnel. Adoption of a new federal budget will help the Air Force start correcting the issue, Wilson said.

“The fiscal 2018 continuing resolution is actually delaying our efforts to increase the readiness of the force, and risk accumulates over time,” Wilson said. “We are stretching the force to the limit, and we need to start turning the corner on readiness.”

Thursday’s announcement comes just a month after President Donald J. Trump amended an existing executive order issued under President George W. Bush in the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Executive Order 13223, citing emergency powers and giving broader authority to the Air Force to recall for active duty retired aviators. However, U.S. Air Force officials have indicated they had no plans at the time to act on the authority granted to them by the president.

During Thursday’s briefing at the Pentagon, Goldfein said that while airmen are meeting requirements to complete missions, the stretch is taking a toll on the Air Force and they are looking for ways to “reduce tension on the force.”

Goldfein and Wilson both said adoption of a new budget by Congress would help push forward some ideas to ease the strain and help allow the Air Force to maintain its mission.

“Surge has become the new normal,” Wilson said. “Less than one percent of Americans serve in uniform and protect the rest of us, and they’re carrying a heavy burden. We are burning out our people because we are too small for what the nation is asking of us.”


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