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​Pilot Capt. Awal Iselin with the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano AB, Italy, salutes as he taxis before take-off at Nellis AFB, Nev., Aug. 2, 2016. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum.

—John A. Tirpak

The Air Force is switching to a “tiered” pilot bonus system to retain pilots in the most critically undermanned areas, and adding more flexibility to service contract lengths, the service said in a press release.

Under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the maximum pilot bonus goes from $25,000 to $35,000, but fighter pilots will get preference for higher amounts versus e.g., mobility pilots because of the shortage in the fighter specialty. The NDAA mandated that the bonuses be applied by use of a “business case analysis to determine greatest need and appropriate monetary amounts,” the service said. “We hope this new approach will make it easier for more airmen to stay in the service,” Secretary Heather Wilson said at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast on Monday.

The 2017 aviation bonuses options include “one-year, two-year, and five year options for all eligible 11X aviators,” along with the tiered payments, the service said. “Bomber, special ops, and mobility pilots have a nine-year contract option while fighter pilots have nine-year and 24-years of aviation service [13-year maximum] options.” Pilots of remotely piloted aircraft, as well as combat systems operators, “are eligible for five-year contracts at varying amounts, tiered by critical needs.”  

The bonuses and more flexible contract options are to work in tandem with efforts to improve pilot quality of life, by reducing additional duties and non-flying assignments, providing more administrative support in squadrons, reducing overseas dwell rates, and having more of a say with base leadership “when choosing who will fill various assignments,” according to the release.