Military Personnel

Actions Needed to Better Define Pilot Requirements and Promote Retention Gao ID: NSIAD-99-211 August 20, 1999

The Defense Department (DOD) reported shortages of about 2,000 pilots at the end of fiscal year 1998 and projects that shortages will continue for several years. Retaining qualified pilots is important not only to ensure that operational requirements can be met, but also to recoup the substantial investments the services make in training their pilots. This report reviews and identifies the reasons for the reported pilot shortages and offers solutions to the problem. GAO determines (1) the military services' reported and projected estimates of their pilot shortages, (2) the basis for the services' pilot requirements, (3) key factors that account for the reported pilot shortages, and (4) concerns that are causing pilots to consider leaving the military.

GAO noted that: (1) the services report that no unit is deploying without 100 percent of its pilots, and they believe that they will continue to be able to meet their operational missions; (2) however, the Air Force and the Navy, and to a lesser extent the Army and the Marine Corps, are all reporting that they are unable to fill some nonflying positions that they have designated for pilots; (3) the services project that these shortages will continue for several years but the extent of these shortages has not been specifically determined; (4) while the services have procedures to review their requirements, they have not comprehensively assessed whether all of their required positions truly need to be filled with active duty military pilots; (5) if other personnel could fill some of these nonflying positions, the services could reduce their pilot requirements and thereby reduce their reported shortages; (6) the significance of reported and projected pilot shortages is difficult to ascertain because the basis for pilot requirements has not been firmly established or documented; (7) the services have not sufficiently explained which nonflying positions active duty pilots must fill nor have they classified positions according to their operational nature or designated which positions are needed for career advancement purposes; (8) although data on pilot requirements is incomplete, GAO identified three key factors that are contributing to the services' reported and projected pilot shortfalls; (9) the Air Force and the Navy reduced the number of pilots they recruited during the personnel reductions that occurred through most of the 1990s; (10) the Navy and the Marine Corps have experienced delays in their training pipelines due to problems coordinating training phases, a lack of spare parts, and other factors; (11) many pilots are leaving the military before retirement since today's economy provides many career opportunities for pilots in private industry; (12) GAO identified two concerns that have particular relevance to pilots; (13) many pilots are now being asked to remain in cockpit positions, which means they are not being given the opportunity to serve in other types of career-enhancing positions; (14) some of these pilots have become concerned that they will not be competitive for promotion; and (15) a pilot's decision to accept a bonus no longer provides assurance that the pilot will stay in the military until the pilot is eligible to retire.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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