I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how the military can encourage people to stay, but the bottom line is that the airlines will be hiring for the foreseeable future and people will bail no matter what in some cases. This doesn’t mean the military has to lose out.

I saw a suggestion that the military would ask Congress to up the minimums for military aviators to keep them from bailing. Unless you want an even more disgruntled force, this is a terrible idea. In fact, I suggest the opposite.

Part of why young officers are picking other career fields is that the UPT commitment currently stands at 10 years. People see ten years as an eternity, and with airlines hiring now and seniority being king, qualified pilots are bypassing the military altogether.

The military should recognize that the transition is inevitable and take advantage of it. Give people two options:

  1. A six year active duty commitment following UPT followed by a guaranteed Air Reserve Component spot and an eight year commitment in the ARC.
  2. Take the ten year active duty commitment.

As I said, in the airlines, seniority is everything. Six years is plenty of time to get military experience and then decide whether they want to continue full time with the military or explore other options. The reserve commitment keeps them active.


The flagship of the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing takes off during Exercise Sentry Eagle 2017. (Photo by Scott Wolff)


The Guard/Reserve are already heavily utilized. Leaders would be smart to shift their mindset and maintain the concept of Ready Reserve. Pilots would be able to seamlessly transition between full time and part time, while still being ready to serve their country. Meanwhile, those that choose the ten year commitment would serve as leaders for the active duty force.

Total Force Integration (TFI) units already demonstrate this concept very well. The active duty runs the squadron on a daily basis while the reservists show up and maintain currency as required while the overall military gets to keep its experienced pilot force.

Focus More on the ARC

Stand up more squadrons and you’ll see better results. Reserves are CHEAPER to operate and maintain while keeping valuable experience. And with more squadrons, you can spread the deployments around so people aren’t burning out with that too. The key is to utilize these assets smartly. Theater Security Packages may serve a specific strategic objective, but when they’re only used to justify a squadron’s existence, they should be rethought. Despite popular opinion, people would rather spend time with their families than deploy for the sake of deployment.

Beyond that, I recommend that Congress revisit the Airline Transport Pilot requirements. The Restricted ATP stands at 750 hours. A pilot must spend anywhere from $4-6k on the CTP-ATP program, take a written test, and then spend an additional $3-5k on a checkride.

This program was a kneejerk reaction to the Colgan Air crash where fatigue was cited. I’m not saying the 1500 hour rule that it created isn’t good. I think for civilian pilots, it’s almost required. But let’s not kid ourselves, military flying isn’t civilian flying.


“Kuts,” a U.S. Air Force Reservist, takes off in the 64th Aggressor Squadron flagship during a recent Red Flag exercise. The bulk of the 64 AGRS’ pilot corps is reservists. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

With military training, you get a known quantity. A military pilot that has made it to 750 or 1500 hours has demonstrated ability and shown that he or she can get through rigorous training. As it stands now, upon completion of UPT, a pilot is eligible for an equivalency exam. This means that a UPT graduate only has to take a written test, and the training is deemed sufficient to receive Commercial and Multi Engine Instrument privileges.

In my opinion, Congress should add an additional equivalency. At 750 hours of military flight time, the ATP written test should be enough to grant a military pilot Airline Transport Privileges.

Before the pitchforks come out from the civilian crowd, hear me out. The ATP program, as it stands now, has less than nothing to do with actual airline operations. The CTP-ATP is nothing more than a few classes on operational risk management and cockpit resource management that military pilots already receive regularly. It doesn’t teach anything military pilots don’t already know.

The real knowledge test is in the written, and I believe that should be the only requirement. The checkride requires maneuvers and approaches that are already accomplished in a basic NATOPS/Instrument or Form 8 evaluation in the military. It’s a waste of time and money. I know, because I did it. And now that I fly Part 121 in a 737, I can safely say that my time preparing for the ATP in the Beech Duchess gave me no skills I didn’t already have from my yearly checkrides in the military.

Removing those barriers will give the airlines more pilots that are ready for training and known quantities.


The Operational Test (note the “OT” tailcode on this 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron F-22A) is comprised of guard, reserve, and active duty airmen. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

It Won’t Happen Overnight

I realize that I’m asking a lot, but the numbers are staggering. If we’re going to fix this problem, we’re already behind the power curve. Drastic measures will be required to right the sinking ship and ensure that both military aviation and our nation’s air transport system remains fully functional.

The problem directly affects our nation’s military readiness. It affects our ability to project airpower. It affects the quality of aviator in both the military and civilian worlds, which also affects our national transportation system and the safety of millions upon millions of passengers.

This is an issue we can’t afford to ignore, and the traditional lip service and band aid fixes applied in past years just won’t work anymore.

Fly. Fight. Win.

That’s it.


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