U.S. Air Force Offers Pilots Bonuses To Solve Retention Problem

By Spyros Georgilidakis | December 11, 2023

The United States Air Force has ramped up the incentives it offers to its pilots, to stop them from leaving at the end of their commitment.

We have seen that the airlines in the U.S. and elsewhere have serious difficulty in finding enough pilots. Various studies show that the problem will persist for several years. And unsurprisingly, pilots in the U.S. have secured substantial increases in pay and improvements in terms and conditions.

U.S. Air Force Offers Pilots Bonuses To Solve Retention Problem
Photo: Luke Jernejcic

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines have historically struggled to retain their pilots. This isn’t at all surprising, given that the military has been a substantial source of pilots for the country’s airlines for decades.

The Air Force and other branches of the military generally haven’t struggled too badly in terms of their recruitment efforts for new pilots. There have been some issues in this regard but it is the retention of experienced pilots that is the main problem.

Photo: Joshua Hoehne

Obviously, this becomes a bigger issue when the airlines are desperate for pilots. To deal with the issue, the U.S. Air Force is rolling out the Experienced Aviator Retention Incentive, or EARI.

Giving Pilots Incentives To Stay With The Air Force

This is an update of a pre-existing program, called the Aviation Bonus, along with a new initiative called the Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Bonus. The Air Force is now making these bonuses available for aviators whose 12-year contracts end in 2025 or 2026.

U.S. Air Force Offers Pilots Bonuses To Solve Retention Problem
Photo: Don Jackson

Under these initiatives, U.S. Air Force pilots will earn between 15,000 and 50,000 extra per year. The exact amount will depend on a number of factors, like how long the pilots commit – 3 to 12 years.

Other factors affecting the amount of the bonus are the pilots’ flying experience and qualifications, as well as the type of aircraft that they fly. Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve pilots are eligible for the program.

Photo: Hans Dorries

But more importantly perhaps, these pilots will be able to reject assignments they don’t like. Or they could choose to stay at their current assignment. Traditionally, the needs of the Air Force have been the primary (if not the only) factor in determining where pilots went.

How effective these new measures will be, remains to be seen. This program is a five-year trial, in an era when geopolitics means that the U.S. military doesn’t want to lose too many of its key people. But the country’s airlines have recently offered 40-45% pay rises to their pilots, on top of other non-monetary perks.


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