Here’s where the Air Force’s pilot shortfall is the worst

Despite the Air Force’s full-court press in recent years to close its persistent and troubling pilot shortfall, the gaps in crucial categories remain — and in some cases, have worsened.

The Air Force closed out 2019 with roughly 1 in 10 bomber, fighter and special operations pilot billets vacant, according to statistics the service provided at Air Force Times’ request.

And in two cases, the manning situation is consistently heading in the wrong direction. Among 11B bomber pilots, for example, the Air Force was more than fully manned from 2015 to 2017. But manning fell 17 percentage points in recent years, from a high of 108 percent in fiscal 2016 to 91 percent in 2019.


Air Force Stemmed Its Pilot Crisis, Chief Says

The Air Force believes it has contained an emergency threatening its core mission, despite persistent estimates it doesn’t have enough pilots at a time it’s facing off against new threats from China and Russia.

By the end of 2018, the Air Force had a shortage of roughly 800 active duty pilots spurred by an inability to retain airmen and train new ones quickly enough. Shortages among Reserve units account for another 1,200-pilot shortfall. The service counts roughly 12,500 active duty pilots among its ranks. Outside assessments predicted the problem would only worsen within the next five years.

The pilot shortage is part of a wider international problem as militaries and commercial airlines scramble to fill empty cockpits. And it has wrought widespread concern, including from some in Congress who consider the shortage “a serious crisis.”


Air Force will bring back up to 1,000 retirees to plug gap in pilots, other rated officers

As many as 1,000 recently retired Air Force pilots, combat systems officers and air battle managers could return to active duty under a major new expansion of a recall program.

The Air Force announced Wednesday it will expand the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty program as part of its effort to ease serious manning shortages in the rated community. The service has repeatedly sounded the red alert over its roughly 2,000-pilot shortfall ? which represents about 10 percent of its overall pilot force ? and said it could jeopardize the service?s ability to train all the new pilots it needs and fight wars overseas.