August 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Air Force Easing Up On Fighter Pilots Competitions Cut Back After Study Finds High Stress Levels

Philip Shenon New York Times
 

Worried by studies showing that the pilots of its jet fighters and other warplanes were being worked too hard, the Air Force said Tuesday that it was sharply curtailing the number of major flight competitions and canceling a large training program.

The move came after a report study prepared for the Air Force found that the high stress levels among its pilots were leading to alcoholism, divorce and low morale.

The Air Combat Command, which is headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and which operates all of the service’s warplanes, said in a statement that “reducing operations tempo is a top priority.” It continued, “Scaling back on exercise and competition commitments was one way to ease the pace for people in the command.”

The Air Force said it was canceling two large pilot competitions planned for later this year, Gunsmoke ‘97 and Proud Shield, and rescheduling them for next year. Two competitions scheduled for 1998 were rescheduled for 1999. And a large training program, Checkered Flag, which was established in 1979 to insure the wartime readiness of the Tactical Air Command, was ended.

Commanders have been alarmed in recent years by the number of pilots who have chosen to leave the service, many complaining that their assignments were too long and too stressful. Earlier this summer, the Air Force said it would reduce the standard overseas deployment for air crews to 45 days from 90 days in hopes of easing the burden.

But the new study prepared for the Air Force by the Rand Corp., a California-based research organization, shows that those cuts may not have gone far enough to deal with the pilots’ concerns.

The Air Force declined to make the report public, but a copy was obtained by The Washington Times, which reported Tuesday that the Rand study had found widespread complaints among air crews about the pace and stress of their jobs. Several commanders were quoted as saying that senior officers pushed them to conduct pointless field exercises and inspections and that the result among pilots was heavy drinking, broken marriages and depression.


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