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Air Force leaders address aircrew crisis

Air Crew Summit

Maj. Gen. Lawrence Martin, assistant deputy under Secretary of the Air Force for Internal Affairs, listens as Capt. Michael Byrnes, Chief of Staff doctoral scholar, briefs attendees about pilot retention at the annual Air Crew Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash)

Air Crew Summit

Capt. Michael Byrnes, Chief of Staff doctoral scholar, briefs attendees about pilot retention at the annual Air Crew Summit at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) -- More than 60 Air Force senior leaders discussed the Air Force’s aircrew crisis which has left the service more than 1,500 pilots short of its requirements Sept. 22, 2017, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

“We are in a crisis,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “We’re 1,500 pilots short, and if we don’t find a way to turn this around, our ability to defend the nation is compromised.”

Throughout the day, Goldfein challenged presenters and leaders to develop new and creative solutions for problems ranging from pilot training limitations to filling staff positions to retention.

“We need to stay focused,” said Goldfein. “We’re doing this to increase the readiness and lethality of the force. This is a warfighting imperative.”

The 2017 Aircrew Summit is part of the Air Force’s Aircrew Crisis Task Force’s ongoing efforts to address the service’s growing shortage of experienced aircrew. Air Force senior leaders from the headquarters, major commands and other experts discussed strategies, plans and initiatives falling under the ACTF’s seven lines of effort: requirements, accessions, production, absorption, retention, sortie production and industry collaboration. 

“We presented some ideas to General Goldfein that are the first steps in completely changing how the Air Force recruits, trains, manages and employs our aircrew,” said Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, the Air Force’s Aircrew Crisis Task Force director. 

Leaders at the summit were briefed on proposed retention initiatives to limit and incentivize non-command 365-day deployments, production initiatives that prioritize flying training and offer alternative methods of aviator training and requirement initiatives that adjust crew ratios and balance instructor pilot numbers.

Increasing assignment process transparency and career predictability for Airmen were frequent themes at the summit’s retention discussions. Although the majority of proposals discussed were designed specifically to address the aircrew crisis, Air Force leaders also discussed the need to expand initiatives to take care of non-rated Airmen and families as well.

“Changing how we manage an all-volunteer force won’t be a quick process, but we must make those first changes so we can gain momentum,” said Lt. Gen. Dash Jamieson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. “Our Airmen get a vote, and they need to know we’re listening to them and acting on their feedback.”

The challenge of retaining qualified aircrew is compounded by limitations on the Air Force’s ability to train sufficient numbers of pilots each year, making it more critical to retain each individual.

Participants also discussed various options for increasing pilot production through contract support or additional aircraft, which would enable the Air Force to train more pilots. Additionally, briefers presented options for limiting staff positions and lengthy deployments for fighter pilots, which currently account for the majority of the service’s pilot shortage.

“This is a wicked problem,” Koscheski said, referring to the critical pilot shortage and proposed solutions to improve retention. “The problem is not only ever-changing, it fights back. You can’t just fix one aspect. They’re interrelated.”

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