(March 6, 2018) Aircraft in the Air Force were ready to fly only 71.3 percent of the time in fiscal 2017, down from a 72.1 mission-capable rate the previous year.
“It scares the heck out of me. It really does,” said retired Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, the former commander of Air Combat Command.
And Air Force pilots are flying an average of 17.6 hours each month, a figure inflated by the high tempo of deployed pilots in the Middle East, reports Air Force Times.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson addressed the issue of flying hours last week at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to do is, when they’re back in the United States, try to free up the white space on their calendars to be able to train in a more intense way,” she said. “It’s one thing to say we’ve got 17 hours of flying time, but if it’s not really intense training, where you come back and you go, ‘wow, I’ve really ratcheted up my game today,’ it’s not enough.”
It is a frustrating combination—pilots in need of flying hours, but airplanes unavailable.
“We are seeing an Air Force that is back on its heels,” said John Venable, a Heritage Foundation Fellow and former F-16 pilot with combat experience.
The Air Force is currently down about 2,000 pilots, a shortage largely due to pilots jumping to the more lucrative commercial airline industry. But Venable says it is not hard to understand why they make the move and it is not just money.
“Flying hours is the big one. That’s where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “They fly four times a month or five times a month, and that’s what you’re going to give them? Why would anybody stay in the force?”
And the declining mission-capable rates cross all airframes—fighters and mobility. The only aircraft making 90 percent of its missions are the remotely piloted ones.
Carlisle worries about an eruption in one of the world’s hot spots, such as North Korea, when needed aircraft are not available.
“We need to buy more airplanes. We need to increase our end strength. And we need to modernize and recapitalize our fleet,” he said.