The Navy's Pilot Shortage:

A Selective Bonus and Other Actions Could Improve Retention

FPCD-80-31: Published: Feb 15, 1980. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 1980.

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While all the services have some pilot shortages, only the Navy has a severe shortage of pilots. As of September 1979, there were 24 percent fewer pilots in the Navy than it needed. GAO reviewed the Aviation Career Incentive Pay (ACIP) program which covers all military officers with flight duties. The objectives of this program include creating an equitable system of flight pay, attracting enough candidates for undergraduate pilot training, and inducing these pilots to make the service a career. Proposed changes to the ACIP have been made to help retain pilots. The changes include a 50 percent increase in flight duty pay for officers and enlisted personnel and added authority to give bonuses. Other factors influencing pilots' decisions to remain in or leave the military service were of concern. The causes of Navy pilot attrition and management actions that could counteract this trend were studied.

While an increase in flight duty pay would have some effect on retention of pilots, it would go to many whose retention is not a serious problem. On the basis of the services' experiences, a targeted bonus would be more effective on the retention rates in critical shortage occupations, such as pilots. This bonus could be used by the Navy now and by the other services whenever shortages warrant it. Increasing flight duty pay across the board to recognize inflation misapplies the comparability pay principle to incentive pay. The Navy has experienced greater than normal attrition in pilots. For the last 5 years it has been unable to meet its planned training rates, and during the 1975 through 1978 period, it separated pilots who wanted to stay on duty and could have been retained to ease the shortage. Action being taken to curb the current pilot shortage includes recalling pilots previously released, placing higher priority on filling instructor pilot positions to overcome training shortfalls, and stopping involuntary pilot separations. Factors contributing to pilot loss included a dramatic increase in airline hiring. Those who were leaving the Navy indicated dissatisfaction with other aspects of naval aviation. The career disincentives cited were: separation from family, decreased flight time, overall career dissatisfaction, inadequate career counseling, unattractiveness of shipboard duty, not enough chances for further specialization, decreased chances for advanced education, inflexible assignment and promotion policies, and benefit and retirement uncertainties.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should: seek legislative authority for a selective bonus targeted to pilots eligible to leave the service; reject the services' proposal for a 50 percent increase in flight duty pay; define in writing the Defense's military pay principles and provide training on their proper application; and direct the Navy to establish policies and procedures restricting involuntary separation in those career fields with shortages.

    Agency Affected:


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