The commander of Air Mobility Command took the stage at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space, and Cyber Conference, Sept. 18, to address the national pilot shortage, an issue shared by the Air Force and the airline industry.
Gen. Maryanne Miller was one of five senior leader panelists who discussed one of the Air Force’s largest personnel issues: aircrew retention. Miller was joined by Gen. Mike Holmes, commander, Air Combat Command; Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, director, Air National Guard; Gene Colabatistto, Defense and Security CAE; and Jim Graham, Delta Air Lines. She also addressed the news media earlier in the day, and in response highlighted the critical need to retain pilots, as well as enlisted aircrew and maintainers.
As it relates to the pilot shortage, Miller stated there were two highlights that stood out to her through research conducted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. One, the surge in operational tempo is now the new normal. Two, Airmen have declared there is not enough “white space” in their schedules with the unrelenting deployment tempo over the last 27 years.
Miller stated the Mobility Air Forces, which hold 44 percent of the service’s total number of pilots, loses about 416 pilots a year. Additionally, the pilots are taking bonuses at lower rates than the historic average.
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Miller also stated the need to help Airmen understand their value and how the Air Force’s service culture makes the military unique. She also stated the need to highlight to Airmen the importance of their role.
“It’s really important to engage Airmen in meaningful conversation, highlighting the value of serving this difference connecting with our Airmen,” Miller said. “Our culture of service makes us unique and can’t be replicated anywhere else.”
Miller said she is working directly with the AMC Aviation Retention Task Force, which stood up last May, to also find solutions. The task force identified six priorities that would have the most impact on future pilot retention. AMC will look to improve communication transparency with Airmen, aircrew members and families; further reduce additional duties; implement a fly-only track, protect Airmen’s “white space” in their calendars to enable personal time; seek to work with families on assignment accommodations and build in flexibility, where possible; and reduce non-command 365 day deployments. The non-command deployments have already been reduced by 29 percent.
The command has already begun addressing the priorities and has taken strides in making the fly-only track a reality.
AMC launched its Aviator Technical Track initiative, an innovative program based on Airmen’s feedback, July 20.
“The program allows an Airman to predominately fly and serve in flying-related jobs as their core duty,” said Miller. “If they choose at a later time to pursue command or other opportunities, then we’ll make adjustments.”
The technical track affords the Air Force the opportunity to retain experienced pilots who will be able to use their expertise in the field and train future forces as the Air Force seeks to produce more pilots.
All components of the Air Force are affected by the pilot shortage and are coming together to find joint solutions.
Holmes, the ACC commander, stated the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force has found 67 possible solutions to the Air Force’s pilot shortage, including additional bonuses, and speeding up the training pipeline, but agreed with Miller stating one of the best solutions is ensuring the Air Force provides Airmen a life of meaning and purpose.
“We’ll continue to focus on those 67 solutions, and we will continue to focus on increasing production,” said Holmes. “But for you I want the Air Force to be a community that you feel a part of, that’s based on shared commitment and service.”
Leadership from the highest levels of the Air Force have been listening to Airmen, working to ensure they feel like they are part of a community and have a shared sense of meaning and purpose. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein’s initiative to revitalize squadrons gets after fostering just that.
“We’re revitalizing squadrons to be lethal and ready organizations, restoring decision authority where the mission gets done,” said Goldfein. “We’re pushing resources to squadron commanders and their teams to get after challenges by unleashing the brilliance of their Airmen who know what they need.”
Miller, who took command of AMC Sept. 7, stated she is focused on engaging with Airmen throughout AMC in the coming months, stressing that one of her main goals for each of the base visits is to get feedback.
“We can’t talk about readiness without discussing retention,” said Miller. “Getting the feedback of Airman is a top priority. We need to continue to connect with Airmen and deliver solutions that demonstrate the importance of what they do and what we can do better. Maintaining our competitive advantage requires continuous investment in our people.”