Despite years of attempts to address shortages, the Army continues to struggle with recruiting hundreds of new pilots, a concern that could potentially impact the readiness of the entire force, an Army Times feature story reports.
In 2017, according to the report, the chief of Army Aviation pledged that the service could resolve a 731 pilot shortage in its warrant officers corps through recruiting, increasing availability of training, and a determined effort to retain senior pilots.
However, over the past two years the Army has added about 30 pilots, according to Army Times, while it continues to identify qualified recruits for nearly 700 pilot billets.
With the persistent shortfall, Army pilots are facing concerns about mission readiness levels that are compromised and even misreported, increased risks for aviation mishaps, and competing demands that are “breaking pilots,” a senior pilot told Army Times.
However, senior officials admit that filling the pilot shortage is not easy and can take a long time, according to the report.
“Our forecast is, once you get additional manning, it’s about six years before you’ve totally trained everybody,” Maj. Gen. William Gayler, commander of the Aviation Center of Excellence acknowledged last fall.
“You know, it took us a decade to get in this position. We can’t get out of it within the year or by next Thursday, so we’ve got some work ahead of us,” Gaylor said at the time.
Nevertheless, Gayler said that the service has made real progress, particularly filling the ranks of more junior pilots, taking some pressure off senior pilots, according to the report.
The Army’s aviation community as a whole is manned to 105% for pilots, according to data acquired by Army Times. In the active Army, that number is 103 percent, with 119 percent of commissioned officers required and 93 percent of warrants.
However, the numbers are misleading, the Army Times reports.
“Although the numbers appear positive in aggregate, there exists an imbalance between a surplus of senior aviators and a shortage of nearly 700 junior aviators across the three components from required manning levels,” Army spokesman Matthew Leonard responded to Army Times in a statement.
“While the Army is experiencing some shortages across its aviation force, the pilots and aircraft that are available in aviation units are training to high levels of readiness and will continue to do so,” Leonard added.
New Jersey National Guard photo by Mark Olsen