Air Force Pilots Have One Month to Extend Contracts for Up to $50,000 Per Year in Bonuses

U.S. Air Force pilots walk toward a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle
U.S. Air Force pilots walk toward a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle on the Kadena Air Base, Japan, flightline, Aug. 11, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Edward Yankus)

Air Force officials are allowing certain pilots to join a new test program that could offer up to $50,000 in bonus money per year if aviators sign extensions to their contracts.

The new program, called the Fiscal Year 2023 Rated Officer Retention Demonstration Program, is open from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 of this year, and will allow pilots whose contracts expire in fiscal 2024 or 2025 to sign an extension for up to $50,000 a year, depending on the length of the contract.

"Retaining our experienced aviators is key to succeeding in a warfighting environment," Brig. Gen. Kirsten Aguilar, the Air Force's Force Management Policy director, said in a Tuesday press release. "The demo program helps posture the Air Force to reliably retain aviators to meet current and future operational requirements."

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The National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in December directed the Air Force secretary to enact "a demonstration program to assess and improve the retention of certain officers," according to the bill text.

The program allows active-duty manned pilots -- with no more than three years, but not less than one year, remaining -- to sign a contract for the maximum monetary amount one to two fiscal years prior to the fiscal year their Undergraduate Flying Training Active-Duty Service Commitment expires, according to the Air Force.

If the program is successful, the Air Force may keep offering the bonus "with higher funding allocation requests in future years to expand offerings to a broader rated field and/or for an extended period," according to the release.

The Air Force's issue with pilot recruitment, training and retention is not new. For nearly a decade, the service has landed anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 aviators shy of requirements yearly, has previously reported.

The new bonus also comes as the Air Force, as a whole, struggles with its toughest recruiting environment in decades.

This past March, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced at the Air & Space Forces Association's conference in Colorado that the service is projecting about a 10% shortfall in active-duty numbers, and the hole will likely be even larger for the Guard and reserve.

Air Force officials said pilots who qualify under the new program should act fast. Starting next fiscal year, the highest bonus amounts will be reserved only for aviators who sign a contract three fiscal years prior to the end of their service commitment.

"The monetary amounts will be tiered thereafter. In FY23, airmen should sign up early to receive the highest valued contracts," the Air Force said in a press release.

This new program comes on the heels of another Air Force initiative aimed at retaining pilots.

In June, it was announced that certain pilots -- including remote piloted aircraft pilots, air battle managers and combat systems officers -- could apply for the Legacy Aviation Bonus Program through Sept. 15. Major changes to the program include "an increase in the monetary cap from $35,000 per year up to $50,000 per year" for those who are eligible, the service said in a press release.

To be eligible under the new Legacy Aviation Bonus Program, pilots must have an Undergraduate Flying Training Active-Duty Service Commitment expiring in fiscal 2023 or earlier, according to the press release.

Pilots who already have a contract under a previous aviation bonus program are not eligible to renegotiate for a higher amount, according to the news release.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Air Force to Its Experienced Pilots: Here's $50,000 to Extend Your Service

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