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​An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot from the Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Fighter Wing at Buckley AFB, Colo., taxis down the flightline before takeoff during exercise Slovak Warthog, July 27, 2016, at Sliac AB, Slovakia. Air National Guard photo by SSgt. William Hopper.

​The Air Force pilot shortage is now more dire than during the “hollow force” era of the late 1970s, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning. One of the primary reasons, Wilson said, is USAF pilots are now flying “less hours and less sorties than the 1970s,” when they averaged 15 sorties and 20 flying hours per month. Today, Air Force pilots average only 10 sorties and 14 flying hours per month. That makes retaining pilots very difficult, Wilson said. “Recruiting is not a problem” for the Air Force, he insisted, but when commercial airlines are hiring 4,000 pilots per year, Wilson said there is “a national problem” that requires “creative solutions.” To sustain the current operations tempo, Wilson said USAF needs to retain 65 percent of the pilots it trains past tenure, but the service is keeping less than half of that number now. USAF needs 1,500 more pilots and 3,400 more maintainers, and it has a shortage of 723 just among fighter pilots, Wilson said. “We’re looking at any and all options” to solve the problem, he added, including granting “leaves of absences” and allowing members to “seamlessly transition between Active Duty and Reserve and Guard.” He said there’s also a “cultural aspect” to retaining pilots. The Air Force needs to “reduce administrative duties” and “let them do their job.”

Read also: Pilot Shortage Back with a Vengeance from the August 2016 issue of Air Force Magazine.