Unhappy with conditions in the Air Force and lured by the promise of high-paying careers with airlines, more than 100 Air Force pilots have asked not to be considered for promotion to major.
Although “a handful” of officers typically write to promotion boards to say they do not wish to be considered, the letters this year appear to represent an unprecedented rejection of careers in the service, a spokesman said.
“There has never been anything like this,” said Capt. Mike Rein, public affairs officer for the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas.
He said the letters “came from all over the Air Force, from many different bases,” and did not appear to be the result of an organized protest.
The pilots typically wrote that they had decided to leave the Air Force and did not want to stand in the way of another captain’s possible promotion, he said.
“We have had people in the past who have written the (promotion) board, asking not to be promoted, but there have been only a handful,” Rein said.
The Air Force did not release the exact number of pilots who opted against promotion, saying only that “more than 100” had asked that their names be removed from consideration.
Even with the letters, the Air Force selected 905 pilots, 274 navigators and 1,397 “nonrated” captains for elevation to major this week, Rein said. This was the largest number of promotions to major since 1991.
The declined promotions by pilots appears to be part of an overall problem of officer retention in the Air Force, said Capt. Byron James, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.
“It’s a problem that has the attention of our senior leadership,” James said. He said many pilots were unhappy with a heavier work schedule resulting from overall service downsizing and overseas deployments, especially in Europe and the Middle East.
In addition, he said, many Vietnam-era pilots who have been flying for airlines are reaching retirement age, “and the airlines are hiring.” In that connection, officials have pointed out that senior Air Force pilots typically earn more money than starting pilots for the airlines.
A recently leaked Pentagon memo said Air Force pilots are leaving the service at faster rates than those who fly for the Army, Navy or Marines. That memo said part of the problem was the fact that pilots don’t trust senior officers in the Air Force.