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MSgt. Martin Nance, crew chief from the Oregon Air National Guard 142 Fighter Wing, directs Capt. James Hastings, an F-15 pilot for the 142 Fighter Wing, to stand by on JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, on March 7, 2015. Air National Guard photo by A1C Robert Cabuco.

To stave off a fighter pilot exodus and reduce the growing pilot shortage, Air Force planners are considering a myriad of approaches. But they believe increasing the retention bonus could have the most immediate impact. Notably, about 800 pilots will be eligible to sign new commitments in exchange for a bonus in Fiscal 2017, planners told Air Force Magazine. In March, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh Welsh told members of Congress the service would be seeking legislation to increase the retention bonus from the $25,000 a year that has been in place since 1999 to $35,000 a year. But even that might not be enough. Last year, the airlines hired 3,500 pilots and are expected to hire at the same rate, if not higher, for the next 10 years. Air Force studies indicate a $48,500 bonus will be needed to maintain the pilot inventory when the airlines hire just 3,200 pilots a year. Between $54,750 and $61,500 would be required if the airlines hire between 3,500 and 3,800 pilots a year, according to the Air Force.

It costs an average of $10 million to train a fighter pilot, so planners see the bonuses—even when they amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for extended commitments—as worthy investments. “We retain experience using the bonus,” Lt. Col. Robert Butkovich, chief of rated force policy, said. “If we lose that experience, it’s going to continually erode the Air Force’s position.” Offering the right amount, Butkovich said, could return the bonus take rate to the ideal 65 percent within two to three years.