The Air Force expects fewer than 200 retired pilots will return to active duty and serve as instructor pilots and in rated staff positions under an executive order issued by President Trump.
The Pentagon originally said after the order was signed Friday that as many as 1,000 retired pilots could be brought back for up to three years. But in a gaggle with reporters Monday at the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, the head of a task force dedicated to fixing the Air Force’s pilot shortfall, said it likely won’t be that many.
Koscheski also said there are no plans now to have those recalled pilots fly other aircraft, such as fighters, bombers, tankers or mobility aircraft, though he could not rule out that changing at some point if the pilot shortfall continues and worsens.
And while the program’s authorities allow the Air Force to involuntarily recall retirees ― which was also the case before Trump expanded the program ― Koscheski stressed that it will remain a voluntary program.
“We are an all-volunteer force,” Koscheski said. “That is our focus. Even with these [involuntary] authorities that came with the package deal, if you will, the focus on this program was to get access to more retirees in a volunteer program.”
The entire Air Force ― active, guard and reserve ― is now about 1,500 pilots short, and about 1,300 of those vacancies are for fighter pilots, Koscheski said. He said the Air Force fears the fighter pilot shortage could be “a canary in the coal mine,” foreshadowing potential shortfalls in other career fields such as mobility pilots.
The Air Force’s pilot shortage largely stems from a massive hiring wave in the commercial airline industry, which sees the military as fertile recruiting ground. In an attempt to stay competitive, the Air Force has recently upped its monthly flight pay and offered massive retention bonuses of up to $455,000. The Air Force is also trying to improve pilots’ job satisfaction. But it hasn’t been enough.
Koscheski said the expansion was needed because the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty program, which Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson approved this summer, was extremely limited, only allowing 25 retired officers to come back for one year at most.