Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, delivered the keynote address at the Regional Airlines Association Annual Convention at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in Florida. In addition, Everhart participated in smaller group discussion with the RAA Board of Directors during the event, which brought together executives from 15 separate regional airlines.
“There is great value in having a two-way, active discussion with industry representatives because getting after the pilot retention problem requires us to understand what the airlines are concerned about, just as we want them to see things from our perspective,” Everhart said.
The general received feedback on the airlines’ need for increased schedule predictability for pilots serving in the Air Reserve Component while highlighting the broad and continuing nature of Air Force and mobility operations around the world. The group discussed leveraging technology and addressing policy related to building qualified pilots, and further crystallized ways to work together on solutions to the Air Force’s pilot retention issues that also consider the industry’s need for qualified professional aviators like those with military background.
“One airline received a request to make 45 of his pilots available for duty – which created an unmanageable business strain. This is why we are working to better set requirements and schedules working toward a goal of at least 60 days in advance and examining non-flying deployments through the lens of necessity,” the general said. “I did emphasize that we will look to improve in this area, but the world always has a vote. The recent string of hurricanes and the earthquake in Mexico may require reaching out short-notice for support. It is important this is also understood.”
Developing a larger pool of qualified pilots was discussed as a foundational necessity to building a better future scenario that can sustain the airline industry and military’s need for professional aviators.
The airline executives and the AMC commander talked about ways to enhance educational quality and opportunities, particularly in schools near military installations. They collectively identified the need to partner in ways to reach students and inspire a passion for aviation and aviation maintenance as viable and exciting career choices.
Everhart spoke to the group about the developing concept of establishing a National Training Academy with military and civilian tracks for attendees. Such an institution would enhance the supply chain of pilots, addressing the shallow pool that currently contributes to competing for those resources between the Air Force and industry.
“Right now, we’re starting to move past the concept stage and more toward making the National Training Academy a reality,” Everhart said. “We’re examining and refining three primary courses of action from which to decide. If approved at the Department of the Air Force level, I’d envision an initial operating capability in late 2019 with full implementation around the end of 2021.”
The aviation industry representatives expressed a primary area of concern in that currently, there is a government-mandated 1,500-hour flight requirement for commercial airline pilots that cannot account for simulator time as flight hours. The sizable expense associated with accumulating the 1,500 in-cockpit flight hours makes the military a recruiting hotbed for the airlines. Because Air Force pilot training includes full motion simulators to better challenge and prepare pilots for a wide variety of situations and developments too risky to replicate in the air, the Air Force’s practices and use of this technology could serve as a beacon to demonstrate effectiveness.
Everhart said the ongoing dialogue represented by participating in this conference is essential to addressing the ongoing challenges the Mobility Air Forces face in attracting, developing, and retaining qualified pilots while working with industry on solutions that will reduce the need to compete over the scarce resource of professional aviators that currently exists.
“Just as we have asked our Airmen for input on what we can do better for them and their families to convince them to stay with us in the service, we continue to talk with industry representatives to fully understand what keeps them up at night,” Everhart said. “There is no one easy solution to addressing our pilot shortage. Getting this right is absolutely critical and means looking at all angles of the issue. What can we collectively do to retain our pilots and maintainers, expand the pool of eligibles and reduce the need to compete for talent with the airline industry?“It’s a shared problem,” he said. “And it will require a shared solution.”