US Air Force offers pilots up to $600k bonuses to fend off lure from airlines

F-15C Eagle assigned to the 194th Fighter Squadron
US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tiffany Del Oso

The United States Air Force (USAF) is offering its pilots bonuses of up to $600,000 to commit their future to serving their country.  

In an attempt to ensure the security of the USAF to operate effectively over the next two decades and fend off the lure from commercial airlines serving pilots will be able to increase their annual wage from $15,000 to $50,000 per year. 

According to the Air Force Times, manned aircraft, drone pilots, combat systems operators and air battle managers will all be eligible for the 2024 retention incentive scheme. 

The extra income will come through the Experienced Aviator Retention Incentive (EARI), formerly known as the Aviation Bonus, and the Demonstration Bonus programs. 

A statement by the USAF on November 30, 2023, said the amount of bonus paid depends on the length of contract the pilot commits to, ranging from three to 12 years of additional service, and the aircraft they fly. 

“In today’s strategic environment, the requirement to preserve critical skills in our Air Force has never been more important,” Maj. Gen. Adrian Spain, Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at Headquarters, Air Force, said. “Specifically, aviation-related skillsets, formed through the crucible of combat and daily execution of high-intensity operations, is the foundation necessary to continue to effectively deliver warfighting capability to the Joint Force and the American people.” 

Maj. Gen. Spain added: “Retaining these professional aviators’ experience and expertise within the Total Force is imperative in order to outpace future challenges that may emerge throughout the spectrum of conflict.”   

The Air Force Times reported that fighter, bomber, mobility, search-and-rescue, special operations and U2 reconnaissance plane pilots can earn $30,000 to $35,000 a year with a three-to-four-year contract. 

Committing to five to seven years’ service earns pilots between $37,500 to $42,500 extra a year and signing a contract for eight to 12 years brings in $45,000 to $50,000 more annually. 

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