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Published: Friday, November 24, 2017 @ 9:38 AM
— Faced with multiple deployments overseas and an airline industry on a hiring binge, fewer Air Force pilots are staying and have created a growing crisis for the nation’s air power.
The Air Force says it’s about 2,000 pilots short – out of a total force of about 23,000 — of the number it needs to carry out the United State’s security demands.
The service branch significantly pumped up aviation bonuses and promised pilots a reduction in administrative tasks not related to flying, but the numbers keep decreasing and have left Air Force leaders scrambling.
Commercial airlines, facing their own aviator shortages as aging pilots retire and the demand for air travel rises, have snatched some of the nation’s most seasoned military aviators into flying Boeing 767s instead of F-15s.
The “greatest problem” is within the ranks of fighter pilots — the Air Force says its short about 1,300 on active duty, in the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, said Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen.
The “greatest negative trends” between 2016 and 2017 surfaced in the bomber and mobility pilots ranks, she added. The Air Force did not immediately release shortfall numbers in those categories.
The shortage of pilots flying manned aircraft has reached about 1,800 while the remaining shortfall of 200 or so fly drones, according to Yepsen.
‘Burning out our people’
Kenneth E. Curell, 65, a former Air Force and Air National Guard fighter pilot who became an airline and corporate jet pilot, said he’s mentoring military aviators who face the dilemma of staying in or leaving.
“In my conversations with them, I ask what is the squadron environment and without fail their basic statement is everybody except a very few are considering walking out,” the Centerville resident and retired colonel said.
While Air Force pilot shortages have come and gone in cyclical waves, the impact is greater now because the force is smaller, Curell said.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson blamed one key reason for the growing loss of experienced airmen: “We’re burning out our people because we’re too small for what the nation is asking,” she told reporters this month.
An airline push to hire military pilots has impacted the only flying unit at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a commander says. The Air Force Reserve 445th Airlift Wing flies nine C-17 Globemaster III aircraft on troop and cargo missions around the globe.
The reserve unit has a shortfall of the full-time C-17 pilots it needs, according to Lt. Col. John F. Robinson, 445th Operations Group commander and a pilot. The wing, a mixture of full-time pilots — known as air reserve technicians — and traditional reservists, is authorized for 83 aviators, said spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cynthia Harris.
The unit is short 14 full-time pilots of the 36 authorized. On the reservist side, the wing has 55 part-time pilots, eight more than authorized, she said. Overall, it’s six pilots short of what’s allowed.
The shortage has had an impact on operations, Robinson said, adding fighter and tanker units were having a harder time filling cockpits.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing the Air Force to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots, but service branch officials said they did not intend to use the authority for now.
However, the Air Force will allow up to 100 senior fighter pilots and weapon systems officers at 10 bases to stay at their current assignments three years longer than their initial tour of duty, Yepsen said.
The Air Force has targeted ramping up the production of pilots from 1,200 a year today to 1,400 by 2019, according to spokesman Capt. Kenneth Scholz.
“Our long-term fix for the pilot crisis is to grow our way out of this,” Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, leader of the Aircrew Crisis Task Force, told reporters at the Pentagon last month. “And so, it’s going to take a while to get in place what we need to start producing more pilots.”
The one-star general called for more “stable and predictable budgets” to boost pilot production about 25 percent.
Top Pentagon leaders have pleaded with Congress to end sequestration – or a decade of mandatory spending caps under the Budget Control Act of 2011. Military and congressional leaders have blamed it for readiness woes, delays to launch aircraft programs, and contributed to an exodus of pilots leaving, among other fallout.
The pilot shortage has gained the attention of Congress.
U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Air Force has been “hemorrhaging pilots.”
“This is an example where cutting the defense budget by 20 percent since 2010 has real consequences,” he said in an October visit to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, adding the service branch was short “thousands” of aircraft maintainers.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, blamed sequestration, “that’s pretty much cut a hole in our defense spending” that led to the manpower shortfall.
‘A tougher challenge’
Former Air Force pilots say too few aviators to fill cockpits is a cyclical problem they witnessed when they flew military jets decades ago.
“Unfortunately for the Air Force, they can’t, like the airlines, just go out and hire someone to come and be an F-35 pilot,” said William “Jay” Jabour, a prior Air Force fighter and test pilot and a retired vice commander of the former Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson.
“The Air Force really has a tougher challenge at bringing people in at what I call the mid-career levels whereas the airlines don’t have any challenge to do that,” the 66-year-old Beavercreek resident said. “…It’s just so much harder to bring people on because of the training requirements.”
It’s costly and takes time for the military to produce pilots. Becoming a jet pilot may take a minimum of two years for an aviator to earn his or her wings. Training a pilot to fly the latest generation F-35 stealth fighter costs taxpayers about $1.1 million, the Air Force said.
The military branch has offered bonuses of $28,000 to $35,000 a year that vary with each aviation community, capping the highest incentives to fighter pilots who can earn a $455,000 bonus if they stay another 13 years.
In some key jobs, prior incentives have not been enough. The “take rate” or the number of Air Force fighter pilots who took a signing bonus for at least a five-year extension dropped 4.9 percent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Overall, 34.6 percent of eligible fighter pilots took the incentive last fiscal year compared to 39.5 percent in 2016, data shows.
An exodus to the airlines
Many aviators complete their initial service requirements at or near the mid-point of their careers, a prime time for the airlines to hire them, experts said.
“There is currently a problem with retaining Air Force pilots after they have finished their active duty service requirement specifically because there has been a large increase in compensation offered at the major airlines over the past five years or so,” said Michael Mattock, a RAND Corp. senior economist who studied the issue and issued reports on findings.
Nationwide, the pilot shortage has hit the commercial world. A University of North Dakota study forecast major air carriers will need to hire more than 18,600 pilots by 2020 and within a decade the cumulative demand will be near 50,000 pilots, according to the Regional Airline Association.
In 2016, the major airlines and regional carriers who are members of the trade group Airlines for America employed roughly 88,000 pilots, according to the organization.
“Although our members are currently meeting their pilot hiring goals, most of their new hire pilots come from either the military or regional airlines, both of which are dealing with shortages of pilots,” Airlines for America spokesman Todd Burke said in an email.
Military aviators have become more prized because they’re likely to meet the standard of 1,500 hours in the cockpit to be hired as an airline co-pilot – a federal requirement that makes it difficult for civilian aviators to reach on their own.
Robinson said the C-17 pilots who stay at Wright-Patt have more control over their schedule than an airline pilot and aviators welcome the camaraderie that doesn’t exist at the airlines.
‘A complex problem’
The Air Force faces a complex problem with pilot retention, Curell said.
The high tempo of deployments over more than 25 years has contributed to the exodus, he said. Air Force pilots live a round-the-clock lifestyle with long work days and administrative work unrelated to flying, he said.
“Most (airline) pilots are not expected to work 24-7 for their pay,” he said. “You fly the flights you are asked to fly and the time you have out of the cockpit is your time.”
“I think if you’re a family guy and you’re getting a lot of deployments, that might incentivize some folks to move out of the Air Force and into another flying job,” Jabour said.
Major airlines offer more pay in a shorter time than the military can match dollar for dollar, Curell said. And while the Defense Department has not lowered pilot selection requirements, fewer people qualify to meet the military’s rigorous standards, he said.
The Air Force career track for officers that takes aviators out of the cockpit for additional education and on to staff positions rather than flying was a key reason he said he left active duty.
He rose through the ranks as an enlisted aircraft maintainer and later as an administrative officer before he landed his first job in the cockpit.
He decided he wanted to keep flying. “I worked too doggone hard to get here,” he said.
By contrast, he noted, other countries have a dual-track system where an aviator can choose to remain flying or continue on a leadership track that would take them out of the cockpit and on to higher-ranking posts.
Once he left the Air Force, Curell did double duty flying jetliners for American Airlines and flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the Indiana Air National Guard.
But that, too, had challenges. He was away from home an average of 25 days out of the month meeting the demands of both jobs, he said.
“That’s 25 days out of your life and if you have family and children you get to the point where your kids are looking at you like, ‘Who are you again?’” he said.
It was difficult to meet the demands of a civilian employer, the Air Guard and family without upsetting one of them, he said, comparing it to balancing a three-legged stool with each leg a different length.
Curell doubted the Air Force could grow its way out of the current dilemma soon.
“The Air Force will not ‘grow’ itself out of this downturn overnight and if that’s the cornerstone of their game plan, everyone needs to get comfortable hearing (Air Force) leadership bemoan their pilot shortage,” he said in an email. “They need to be acting differently than in the past, because they’re only doing now what they’ve done previously and that didn’t work in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ’90s.”
Navy and Marine Corps shortages
Like the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps boosted incentives to retain some experienced aviators.
The Navy is about 40 pilots short, with concern focused mostly on fighter and electronic warfare aviators, according to Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a Naval Air Forces spokesman in Coronado, Calif.
“We may be short only 40 pilots or so but the retention challenges we have is focusing us to be less selective and could be affecting the quality of our force,” he said.
The Navy has about 7,165 pilots who fly all types of aircraft and another 2,896 naval flight officers who are part of the flying air crew.
Flanders said it’s not just a compensation issue, but addressing readiness shortfalls to ensure pilots fly.
The House Armed Services Committee reported that senior military leaders testified 60 percent of the Navy’s F/A-18s cannot fly and the sea service is short more than 100 aircraft. The Budget Control Act imposed spending caps impacting training and maintenance, military leaders say.
“After years of continuing resolutions and in some cases sequestration, we have not had the funding for parts and flight hours that we need,” Flanders said.
Often, he said, parts are “cannibalized” off one aircraft to keep another in the fleet flying.
Naval aviators who fly tactical jets, such as the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter and the E/A-18 Growler electronic warfare jet have had a reduction in flights hours per year — falling from an average of 250 hours in 2011 to about 190 in 2017, he said. An average for Air Force fighter pilots flying hours was not immediately available.
The Navy boosted re-signing bonuses to $35,000 annually for five years, or $175,000 in total, for test pilots and pilots who fly at the Navy’s famed Top Gun school in Nevada, Flanders said.
However, the Navy would like more flexibility in the length of time it offers aviators financial incentives to stay in uniform, he said.
The Marine Corps reported a shortfall of about 170 aviators on active duty, according to spokeswoman Yvonne Carlock.
The shortages were primarily in the F-35 and F/A-18 fighter jets and MV-22 tilt-rotor transport, she added.
The service branch has 3,373 flying officers, but a break out between pilots and other flying air crew was not available.
To boost retention, the Marines rolled out an aviation bonus this month. Active-duty fighter and attack jet pilots and those who fly the MV-22 transport may be eligible for a $40,000 aviation bonus paid over two years.
Rising numbers leaving the ranks
The Air Force says a pilot shortage has grown in the active duty, Air National Guard and reserve ranks. Here’s a look at some key numbers:
Number of pilots short: About 2,000
Number of fighter pilots short: About 1,300
Total number of pilots: 23,000
Cost to train a fighter pilot: $1.1 million
Time to earn pilot’s wings: Two years
Top bonus to fighter pilots: Up to $455,000 for an additional 13-year commitment
SOURCE: U.S. Air Force
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 5:30 AM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Filled with life-like medical mannequins, dark cargo plane fuselages and a centrifuge that spins humans in circles at high speed, the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine is unlike most schools.
One of the biggest prizes gained at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in recent years, the school marked its 100th anniversary in ceremonies Friday.
The $194.5 million school opened in a sprawling new building at Wright-Patterson in 2011 after eight decades in Texas. The move was part of a base realignment and closure process in 2005 that brought about 1,200 jobs to Wright-Patterson. Most of those were in aerospace medicine and sensors research from sites in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts and New York.
“We’ve been training flight surgeons for 100 years,” said Col. Alden Hilton, the school’s commander. Today, it also educates flight nurses, enlisted aeromedical technicians, and critical care medical teams, among others.
“These medical personnel are already experienced clinicians,” Hilton said. “But it’s very different to practice medicine in the back of an airplane where it’s dark, very, very noisy and vibration and other movements and what you have with you is all that you’ve got.”
The massive school traces its origins to Hazelhurst Field, N.Y., where it opened as the Medical Research Laboratory of the Air Service in 1918 in the infancy of Army aviation.
A faculty and staff of about 950 train 4,000 students a year at Wright-Patterson. The school trains airmen in aeromedical evacuations of wounded troops from combat zones to hospitals, has an epidemiology and environmental lab to analyze samples from bases around the world, and researches how to improve human performance with technology as part of the mission of the 711th Human Performance Wing.
Wright-Patterson marked it’s 100th anniversary in 2017.
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 5:00 AM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The specter of a partial federal government shutdown looms at midnight Friday, but many federal employees feel “immune” to the threat of being sent home in a repeated cycle of last-minute stopgap spending measures to avert a shutdown, union leaders say.
“I think employees are actually getting immune to it,” said Troy Tingey, president of the American Federal of Government Employees Council 214, which represents several thousand employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
But many also have lost patience.
“A lot of them are starting to look for other career fields in the private sector,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. “They’ve had about enough of this.” And some are rethinking who should represent them in Congress, he added.
Congressional leaders are faced with the prospect for the fourth time since September voting for a short-term spending measure – called a continuing resolution – to avoid a government shutdown through mid-February. The consequences of a shutdown would likely furlough thousands of civil service workers at Wright-Patterson, as it did in 2013.
The House passed a stopgap spending measure in a 230-to 197-vote late Thursday. The bill now heads to the Senate where its fate was uncertain Friday.
President Donald Trump injected confusion by tweeting Thursday that a children’s health care program should not be part of a short-term budget agreement. The White House quickly said Trump indeed supports the House GOP measure, which would extend the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for six years and keep the government’s doors open through Feb. 16.
Waiting for word
Although a base spokesperson said Wright-Patterson has not received instructions to prepare for a shutdown, the last time a closure happened some civil service employees, such as police, fire, and medical workers, or those who were involved with the protection of life and property, were exempt. Military personnel stayed on the job.
Even so, when they report to work, they would likely not be paid until a funding deal was reached, two Wright-Patterson firefighter union leaders said.
“There is some stresses for some of our guys because they aren’t sure what’s going to happen,” said Brian Grubb, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local F88 at Wright-Patterson.
“I think for some of the newer employees that haven’t had to navigate this or just not knowing how long this potential shutdown could be …. there’s that uncertainty,” said Steven E. McKee, Local F88 secretary-treasurer and a firefighter.
“I can’t imagine a Google, Facebook or Ford Motor co. … running as inefficiently,” McKee said, adding “it’s a huge impediment, a hindrance and it’s not right. It’s not fair to either the federal worker and or the citizen.”
Tingey said many members have lost confidence in Congress and the White House.
“When we get out there and we talk to (employees), they just have lost all confidence and respect in not only in (the) House and Senate, but in the administration as a whole,” he said.
U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, indicated Thursday they would vote for stopgap funding to keep the government open.
“We’re in the sad position of having to vote for another continuing resolution which shortchanges our military and our men and women in uniform,” said Turner, who has Wright-Patterson in his congressional district. “I believe that will pass the House … and then the Senate will be in a position to on a short-term basis continuing funding the government.
“The Senate has to stop holding the budget deal hostage,” Turner added. “They refuse to negotiate and discuss the budget deal until immigration is resolved and the government hasn’t been funded since the end of September. These are unrelated issues. They need to proceed in a decoupled fashion and it’s doing real damage to our military that Senate Democrat leadership continues to take that stand.”
Democrats are demanding a deal on legislation to offer protection from deportation to younger immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now are here illegally as a prerequisite for any longer-term government funding agreement. They say the four-week duration of the House continuing resolution is too long and would take the pressure off of immigration negotiations.
“We can’t keep careening from short-term CR to short-term CR. If this bill passes, there’ll be no incentive to negotiate and we’ll be right back here in a month with the same problems at our feet,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.“Eventually, we need to make progress on the biggest issues before us.”
Wenstrup said lawmakers were “diligently” trying to prevent a shutdown.
“I think we’ll get there, but I’ve been wrong before,” he said.
Funding the military is the highest priority with the threats the United States faces around the world, he said.
“Although a CR likely will not have what we want in terms of funding our military fully, a CR is probably our least bad option and closing down the government is an even worse option,” said Wenstrup, who added a shutdown would mean training for National Guard and reserve troops would stop.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has not indicate how he will vote on a short-term funding measure. He is waiting to see what is in the legislation before making a decision, his office said Thursday.
“There is no reason for a government shutdown,” the senator said in a statement. “Congress needs to come together and do its job.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Portman would vote yes on a short-term spending resolution.
“Rob believes both parties have a responsibility to keep the government funded and ensure safety and stability for all Americans, especially those serving in our armed forces,” spokeswoman Emily Benavides said in an email. “He will certainly vote to keep the government open.”
Follow the daytondailynews.com and mydaytondailynews.com for the latest news on a potential government shutdown Friday.
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 11:51 AM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Wright-Patterson will launch its first base-wide exercise of 2018 between Jan. 29 to Feb.5, authorities say.
Base personnel and visitors may be delayed getting through or out of gateways at times during the security exercise, officials said.
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 5:00 AM
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Congress appear to be careening toward a partial shutdown of the federal government, though lawmakers expressed some hope Tuesday they can at least approve a temporary spending bill that would keep the government running beyond the Friday deadline.
It’s far from a sure bet, though, and there are growing fears the government will partly close for the first time since a two-week shutdown in 2013. Thousands of civilian employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force were furloughed during those two weeks as the federal installation went into partial shutdown mode.
Wright-Patterson is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 employees — the vast majority of whom are civilians — and touts a regional economic impact greater than $4 billion.
Michael Gessel, vice president of the Dayton Development Coalition, said “it is increasingly difficult to predict what Congress will do and the predictions change almost on an hour-by-hour basis. There is similarly a very high level of uncertainty and we will not really know until the next few days what the chances are.”
“I know it grows tiresome to hear, but yes, the bickering and intransigence between the parties appears to be growing and making legislation more difficult,” Gessel added.
Prior to 2013, the most recent government shutdown was during a three-week period in 1995 and 1996.
The fallout from any shutdown damages national security, wastes money, and impacts employee morale, Gessel said.
Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, predicted Congress will approve another temporary spending bill.
But in an e-mail Tuesday, he warned that a “shutdown remains a real possibility,” adding that “Congress will eventually get to a budget deal, but it may take a few more weeks or months.”
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, would close until a funding deal is reached, a spokesman has said.
The two parties are squabbling over whether to increase defense spending, find money to build a wall or increase security along the Mexican border as demanded by Trump, and an insistence by Democrats that any spending measure provide legal guarantees for the children of undocumented immigrants, a program known as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA.
While there appears little appetite in the Senate to shut down the government, the House is deeply divided. With Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid shielded from potential reductions through a 2013 law aimed at controlling spending, lawmakers are arguing about how to spend roughly $1.1 trillion in what is known as discretionary spending — money Congress needs to appropriate every year.
A number of Republicans such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton are demanding more than the $549 billion for defense than is permitted under 2018 federal spending year guidelines. In return, Democrats want to spend more on domestic programs than the $516 billion allowed in 2018.
In a conference call with Ohio reporters Tuesday, Portman said in a private meeting last week with Senate Republicans, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis “painted a pretty dismal picture about our preparedness.”
“We do have a situation right now with more and more responsibilities overseas,” Portman said. “We have to have additional defense spending.”
Portman said he has talked to people at Wright-Patt who are concerned about a shutdown. “I think it is really important to figure out to move forward without a government shutdown,” he said.
No relationship building
Looming in the background is the concern about the impact a shutdown could have on this year’s congressional elections. With Trump’s popularity remaining around 40 percent in most polls, GOP analysts already fear they could lose the Senate and House in November.
Daniel R. Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer, predicted a shutdown is unlikely “because of the political question of who gets blamed for this.”
But Wright State University economics professor Evan Osborne said a shutdown is likely because he doesn’t expect Trump to budge on the “single most important” issue to his base: illegal immigration.
“He ran on ‘build the wall’” and curbing illegal immigration, Osborne said. “I don’t really see him giving on that.”
Adding to the unpredictability is the combativeness between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of relationship building between the Congress and the White House on big ticket items like immigration and tax reform,” Birdsong said.
In a sign that both parties are prepared to blame the other, Blaine Kelly, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, took direct aim at Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, saying Brown “would be wise not to hold military funding hostage, but instead support a common sense compromise to keep the government open.”
For his part Brown, who is seeking re-election to a third term in November, said “there is no reason for a government shutdown. Congress needs to come together and do its job.”
‘We follow a very deliberative process’
Military leaders — including at Wright-Patterson — tend to decry temporary spending measures. They say they lower combat readiness, prevent the start of new programs, cap spending at last year’s levels and don’t eliminate reductions under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer said the base has not received guidelines on who would be exempt from a furlough.
“We follow a very deliberative process and guidelines to determine what services, if any, would be suspended during any government shutdown,” he wrote in an email.
The last time the base shut down, active-duty military personnel stayed on the job.