Decade of Pilot Decline Has Reversed

Decade of Pilot Decline Has Reversed

Photo by: AUSA

The decline in the number of Army pilots over the past decade has been reversed over the past 18 months with more predictable funding and newly authorized retention bonuses for mid- and senior-career aviators, the Army’s chief of aviation said.

Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Ala., said the Army is still short of pilots, “most predominantly” in the Apache attack helicopter community. He explained that budgetary restrictions resulted in fewer accessions, but attrition in the aviation force also played a role as retirement-eligible pilots moved on to commercial aviation jobs.

Praising Army pilots as the best in the world, Gayler said it’s a boon for commercial aviation safety.  “When you get on board a [commercial airliner] and they say, ‘Hi, I'm Capt. Bob and I'm a U.S. Army aviator,’ you're going to have a fine flight,” Gayler said at a Sept. 5 Hot Topic forum on Army Aviation hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare.

But filling the void with only new students would have created a dearth of experience in an institutional aviation force where 25 percent of the active component aviation warrant officers are eligible for retirement, a number that jumps to 33 percent in the next 18 months. “You’ve got to access enough to avoid that attrition being a problem, but you also have to keep some experience,” he said.

To address the threat of a widening experience gap, Gayler said approval was secured to offer three-year bonuses to retain pilots in mid- and senior-year groups. To some who questioned the need to give bonuses to aviators with 19 to 22 years of service, Gayler’s answer was: “If they all retire, we have no experience in our fleet, so we need them.”

"We retained quite a few in the mid- and senior grades that will enable us to get out of this experience gap potential, but we still have got to bring in more aviators and train them,” Gayler said.