The Air Force needs more pilots - and this is where it's looking

The Air Force has made a number of moves to reduce its shortage of active-duty pilots, including bringing on more retired pilots to administrative roles in order to keep qualified fliers in the air.

Now the service is looking to expand the number of pilots it draws in from the Air National Guard and Reserve to fill vacancies across the active-duty force.

On Oct. 1, the Total Force Aircrew Management — Assignment Augmentation Process grew from 10 positions to 30, in an effort to bring active reserve-component fighter pilots who are available and interested into the active-duty force for two to three years, according to an Air Force release.

“This is a growing total-force program,” said Maj. Walt Ehman, head of the TFAM-AAP. “It enables all air components to help fill pilot-assignment positions around the world.” (Positions are only open to fighter pilots and fighter-combat-systems officers, however.)

f16 falcon pilot

An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, assigned to Detachment 1, 138th Fighter Wing, dons his helmet in preparation of a barnstorming performance for reporters, Feb. 1, 2017, in Houston. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Drew A. Egnoske)

The TFAM-AAP, started in 2014, brings together the management of active-duty, Air Guard, and Reserve aircrew resources, whereas previously each component had its own office overseeing officers and career enlisted airmen.

“TFAM enables the use of a single agreed-upon model, in one office, to make training and resource decisions, provide policy guidance, and make integrated recommendations to solving problems like aircrew shortfalls,” Ehman said.

Boosting TFAM-AAP openings is one of many initiatives the Air Force is pursuing to improve retention, production, and absorption.

Related: Air Force says no plan to recall retired pilots

On the retention side, a number of quality-of-life improvements have been implemented, including reducing administrative duties for pilots and increasing pay and bonuses.

To boost production, the Air Force is considering outsourcing some aspects of training, like adversary-pilot duties, as well as partnering with external organizations to augment the training process.

The Air Force’s Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty, or VRRAD, program is also open to up to 25 retired fliers from any pilot specialty code who elect to return to fill “critical-rated staff positions,” allowing active-duty pilots to stay with units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.

From right, The last active-duty Air Force pilot to fly the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1, Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim “WAM” Harkins, Lt. Col. Mike “Dirty” Driscoll and Col. Ryan “Shooter” Craycraft return to the flightline at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 16, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

An amended executive order signed by President Donald Trump earlier this month also allows the Air Force to recall up to 1,000 pilots to active duty for up to three years. However, Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, director of the Air Force’s aircrew crisis task force, has said the service doesn’t intended to force anyone back into active duty.

Rather, he told, the executive order is an addendum to the VRRAD, giving the Air Force “more access to more retirees” for a longer period of time. Koscheski said the order opened the VRRAD program to personnel who could act as instructors.

The Air Force’s component forces are about 1,500 pilots short of the 20,300 they are required to have. According to Koscheski, 1,300 of those absent are fighter pilots.