The Air Force is Breaking. Who is Accountable?

CAP Maj Gen Mark Smith and CAP Command CMSgt Dennis Orcutt, JrCAP Maj Gen Mark Smith and CAP Command CMSgt Dennis Orcutt, Jr

By John Q. Public

[Editor’s Note: We received this from an AuxBeacon reader. Thank you for your contribution. The Civil Air Patrol is currently going through a similar situation like the U.S. Air Force with toxic leadership.]

The Air Force’s leaders are ringing the alarm that the force is on the verge of breaking. As reported by Air Force Times’ Stephen Losey, the service’s pilot shortage has grown another 25% to more than 2,000 … threatening its ability to conduct the mission.

This jumble of words gets written so often that it has lost a lot of its punch. But make no mistake, what this means is that either the Air Force will not be able to do what the nation needs it to do when our vital interests are threatened, or — more likely — it will determine a way to get the job done, but at an unacceptably steep cost in terms of lost airmen, lost aircraft, and losses on the ground. In either case, a weak Air Force means a vulnerable nation whose way of life could be irrecoverably altered.

Most of the response in the Air Force and in Congress is rightly forward-focused on how to fix the issues … assuming they can be fixed with the means and methods being made available.

But there’s also a question on the table that must be answered for any fix to have half a chance of succeeding without being derailed by the same forces that led to the current crisis. That question is: who is responsible for this mess and how did they create it?

This is a fair question. I believe it should be posed to former Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh and former Secretary Deborah Lee James in open hearings on Capitol Hill. These two presided over the Air Force during a pivotal moment in its journey when the current crisis was still preventable. They didn’t manage to prevent it, and we need them to explain why.

Some will say this problem has deep roots that were planted long before these two appeared on the scene. While this is true, it’s not the main point. The main point is that these two had the luxury of something no one before them had: notice.

They were put on notice constantly, repeatedly, loudly, and uncompromisingly. Not just by this blog, but by the movement it helped to catalyze. For the entire four years Welsh and James were in their positions, they were getting clear feedback that things were coming apart … that people were leaving in droves and poised to leave in bigger droves unless things were improved.

For the most part, these perpetual pleas for improvement fell on deaf ears. The public and the Air Force deserve to understand why.

For those of us who have been observing and commenting, the current crisis is unsurprising. This has been the trajectory. I started writing about it in early 2013, documenting the reasons I felt the service was coming apart at its core. It would be useful for all of us to understand whether senior officials agreed.

Just to revisit some of the main points we’ve made over the years, the Air Force is not breaking suddenly or solely because it doesn’t have enough pilots.

It is breaking because…

Read More

6 Comments on "The Air Force is Breaking. Who is Accountable?"

  1. Avatar OutlookNegative | April 20, 2019 at 14:37 | Reply

    Two recent studies by RAND Corp. and the Government Accountability Office paint a grim picture of U.S. airpower.

  2. Avatar Daring China | April 20, 2019 at 14:27 | Reply

    Japan’s F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters, including the one that went down in the Pacific Ocean last week, made seven precautionary landings before the crash, the nation’s Defense Minister said.

    US and Japan doubt China can find the wreckage of a missing Japanese F-35

  3. Maj Andre McDonald

  4. Avatar Numbers Don't Lie | January 30, 2018 at 06:20 | Reply

    Since Carr and in the present, the CAP has lost thousands of members. This gives clues to the systemic problems that infect Civil Air Patrol. One would think that the loss of an amount of members that for all purposes equals the amount of members who have “hung on or newly joined” and are currently enrolled, would be the first item, not the third item, on a real leader’s agenda.

    But in reality, no one thinks, really, that CAP has a membership of, lets say, 58,000, 56,000 or whatever they claim today.

    Most who drop out do so within the first 4 months of membership, or if they continue for a year or so, they drop out a month or so after paying their year’s dues. So while they are carried on the rolls for the entire 12 months, in reality (is reality important to Civil Air Patrol) they haven’t been active members for 8 to 10 months before they are removed due to non-renewal. And rarely are folks asked why they dropped out.

    But ignoring the hemorrhaging of membership and not wanting to learn the reasons for that hemorrhaging is systemic of a corrupt organization.

  5. The U.S. will face a staggering shortage of pilots
    Over the next two decades, 87 new pilots will need to be trained and ready to fly a commercial airliner every day in order to meet our insatiable demand to travel by air
    By Jim Corvey, News of the Force St. Louis
    That’s one every 15 minutes. Passenger and cargo airlines around the world are expected to buy 41,000 new airliners between 2017 and 2036. And they will need 637,000 new pilots to fly them, according to a forecast from Boeing released this week. That staggering figure is matched only by how many will leave the profession in the next decade – particularly in the U.S.

    Retirements at U.S. airlines will start to rise precipitously starting in 2021 as the current crop of pilots turns 65, the mandated age of retirement. More than 42% of active U.S. airline pilots at the biggest carriers will retire over the next 10 years, about 22,000, according to a recent report by Cowen & Company.

    In the next 20 years, airlines in North America are going to need 117,000 new pilots, Boeing estimates. And the farm team for training and recruitment in the U.S. — the military and regional carriers — are already struggling to find and keep aviators.

    The coming retirements exceed the active U.S. regional airline pilots corps, which stands around 19,000.

    Without enough pilots, the amount airlines can fly will be capped. And an acute shortage may wreak havoc on air travel, grounding planes and reducing air service to some cities if routes are cut or curtailed.

    It’s already happening. Last month, Horizon Air, the regional arm of Alaska Airlines, said it was canceling 6% of it schedule — more than 300 flights — from August to September because it doesn’t have the pilots. And Republic Airways filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2016 in part because it was “grounding aircraft due to a lack of pilot resources.”

    Pilots and their unions contend that there is no shortage, only a perceived one, and a dearth of good-paying flying jobs that would attract new candidates. Rather than change any standards to bolster recruitment, pilots unions have pushed for higher wages for existing pilots to increase the economic attractiveness of the profession.

    And American Airlines (AAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL) and United Airlines (UAL) have all signed new contracts with their pilots to raise their hourly wages. Horizon, too, says its aggressively recruiting, offering a $20,000 bonus and upped starting pay from $30 to $40 per hour. Pilots at Mesa Air Group, which offered the lowest starting wages in the industry at $22 hourly, according to Cowen, earlier in July ratified a new contract upping that to $36 per hour and offering as much as $42,100 in bonuses.

    The U.S. military, too, is trying to hold on to its own highly trained pilots in uniform. The Air Force is willing to pony up to $455,000 to keep its pilots. The Department of Defense said the Air Force was short 1,555 pilots.

    The regional carriers are not only fighting with other U.S. airlines to hold on to their pilots. Rapidly-expanding Middle Eastern and Asian carriers are offering huge premiums to lure well-trained aviators. Chinese airlines are offering salaries topping $300,000 for skilled aviators.

    But it’s not only a question of pay, say industry experts.

    After the 2009 Colgan Air crash that killed 50 outside of Buffalo, N.Y., new rules on pilot training were put in place. New pilots are required to have 1,500 hours of flight time before they can earn their air transport pilots license. That’s another 1,250 hours pilots must accumulate after getting their commercial certification.

    Supporters of the rule say it has been a success and there hasn’t been a U.S. commercial airline fatality since the Colgan crash.

    However, critics contend the rule is a huge barrier to new pilots who would seek to start at regional airlines and also point out that both pilots on the Colgan flight had more than 1,500 hours of flight time.

    “A diminishing number of pilots have been willing to commit the time and money to their education and training when the return on investment is somewhere between unpredictable and financially ruinous,” writes airline pilot and travel blogger Patrick Smith. Pilots-in-training can take loans, regularly more than $100,000, to finance training and flight time or work as low-wage flight instructor that doesn’t necessarily mirror airline operations.

    And every year that goes by without joining airline ranks means one less year of seniority in an industry that won’t allow working past the age of 65. That could mean forgoing up to $500,000 in earning potential, according to an industry estimate.

    Republican Senator John Thune recently submitted an amendment to the 1,500 hour rule. Pilots now only need 750 hours if they trained in the military, 1,000 if from a four year school and 1,250 from a two-year college, but the amendment would give give the FAA more flexibility to award training credit to pilots — but the move faces an uphill political battle.

  6. Just a minor issue…the photo caption is incorrect. The correct rank should be the Command CMSgt, not just CAP MSgt. I’m not sure what purpose a CAP NCO corps meets, other than allowing more people to show off their stripes after leaving the service.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.