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Air Force Opens Pilot Retention Bonus Program

The Air Force’s Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Program is up and running. It offers retention bonuses to qualifying pilots worth up to $50 thousand per year to renew their Air Force commissions and keep flying in uniform. But pilots don’t have much time to take advantage of the offer.

Air Force Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Program

The 2023 Defense Authorization Act created this Air Force program. It is offered to qualifying active duty pilots who sign up during a limited window of opportunity expiring September 15, 2023.

Air And Space Forces Magazine reports that the $50 thousand bonus is offered to pilots who agree to an 8-year contract, and not all pilot positions qualify for the maximum.

That article also notes that many are capped at a bonus of $35 thousand per year, including surveillance, intelligence, and command and control pilots.

Qualifying Air Force pilots who re-up for five to seven more years may be allowed to take their first $100,000 in bonus pay as a lump sum. A similar option for the first $200 thousand in bonus pay is offered to those who agree to contracts between 8 and 12 years.

Who Qualifies for this Air Force Pilot Retention Bonus

This is a program that may primarily benefit those who are serving their first 10-year contract and are on active duty.

According to the Air Force, those eligible for the program are pilots with undergraduate flying training and active duty service commitments expiring in fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

A Permanent Bonus Option?

At press time, the answer is no. In its current form, this is only a demonstration program. But what happens if the program goes well?

An Air Force press release announced, “If the initial demo program is found to be successful and scalable, it may potentially continue with higher funding allocation requests in future years to expand offerings to a broader rated field and/or for an extended period.”

But even with such an extension, the program is not meant to operate indefinitely. It has a built-in expiration date at the end of 2028.

Another Air Force Incentive For Pilots

The Air Force’s program doesn’t just feature cash bonuses. A separate part of the program offers incentives in the form of something called “Assignment of Preference.”

This option offers qualifying active duty Air Force pilots an extra two years in a “preferred” assignment (with bonus money paid) or four years in that preferred assignment (without being paid a monetary bonus.)

The Air Force has dealt with consistent pilot shortage issues for some time. In 2022 the service lost more than 200 pilots and was nearly 2 thousand pilots short of its end-strength goals for that year.

By the Numbers

According to an Air Force Times report, the Air Force’s pilot shortage has been an issue for years. In 2018, then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson admitted the nearly 2,000 pilot shortfall, which some estimate to be approximately 10% of the total number required. Such a shortage could, “break the force,” According to Wilson.

The Air Force wants approximately 13 thousand active duty pilots, with 8 thousand flying in the Guard and Reserve. Some sources say roughly 6% of active duty flying slots are currently vacant, with some 15% of Guard/Reserve pilot jobs also vacant.

Signups for the Air Force Rated Pilot Retention Bonus Program for 2023 close September 15, 2023. 


About the author

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Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.