US Air Force increases pay for pilots as critical shortage continues

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An F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, flies during a Red Flag 15-3 sortie at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 13, 2015. The 366th Fighter Wing, assigned to Mountain Home AFB, is the lead wing of Red Flag 15-3 which ... is designed to provide a series of intense air-to-air combat scenarios for aircrew and ground personnel which will increase their combat readiness and effectiveness for future real-world missions. (U.S. Air Force)

On Sunday, Air Force pilots are set to receive their first incentive pay increase since 1999.

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The initiative, designed to attract and retain pilots at a time when numbers are dwindling, allocates higher “flight pay” to aviators across the board and reduces the steps necessary to move up on the incentive pay table. The maximum rate will be $1,000 per month for those with more than 12 years of aviation service.

Incentive pay for pilots with less than six years of service hasn’t been increased since 1980.

Under the new plan, those Air Force officers would be able to make up to $700 per month.

The pay incentives go into effect on Oct. 1 and are effective for both officer and enlisted aviators, according to the Air Force.

The increase was announced in August as one feature of a three-part initiative to attract more pilots to the service. The other two initiatives include an expansion of the 2017 Aviation Bonus Program to include non-contracted and contract-expired pilots, which began in early August, and another program to bring retired pilots back to fill critical-rated staff positions, which began on Aug. 11.

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The branch of the U.S. military is experiencing a critical shortage of pilots. At the end of 2016, the Air Force was 1,555 aviators short – including 1,211 fighter pilots – and said in August that it expected that deficit to grow.

“We need to retain our experienced pilots…” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in an August press release. “We can’t afford not to compensate our talented aviators at a time when airlines are hiring unprecedented numbers.”

Commercial airline captains can earn as much as $270 per hour, according to Airline Pilot Central. In 2017, a captain on United Airlines (UAL) could expect to earn between $232 and $328 per hour.

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