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So many pilots are leaving the U.S. Air Force that some may have to stay against their will

Pilots are leaving the U.S. Air Force faster than they can be replaced, and officials are considering a drastic solution: forcing the pilots to stay against their will.

“If I don’t have pilots to fly, the enemy has a vote, and if I can’t put warheads on foreheads, then [ISIS] is winning,” Gen. Carlton Everhart, the chief of Air Mobility Command, told Roll Call.

Pilot attrition has been a problem for years, with many pilots leaving the service to work for commercial airlines. Several Air Force generals reportedly plan to meet with airline executives in May to discuss ways to manage the situation and avoid an Air Force “stop-loss,” or requiring pilots to remain in the service beyond the timeframe to which they committed.


There’s reportedly talk of increasing the bonus system to incentivize Air Force pilots to stay, but money may not be the issue. Everhart said that long and arduous deployments on one hand, and a lack of opportunities to actually fly planes when stationed in the U.S. on the other, are making the Air Force unattractive for pilots. The situation is the result in part of tight budgets that result in fewer personnel, aging airplanes, and less money to finance training flights.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, said at a March 29 panel hearing that “military pilots serve for love of country and for love of flying.” She, like Everhart, is not convinced more money will keep pilots around.

While the Air Force is short on pilots, it’s even shorter on people who make certain planes can fly. Officials testified to Congress in March that the Air Force not only has about 1,500 fewer pilots than it should but also has about 3,400 too few maintenance personnel.

The ability for the Air Force to initiate a stop-loss program was codified in September 2015 but has yet to be invoked.

“I said to the [airline] industry… if we can’t meet the requirements, the [Air Force] chief could drop in a stop-loss,” Everhart told Roll Call. “And you need to understand that.”