The U.S. Air Force is hoping to give pilots at least 20 hours of flight time per month. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Air Force pilots spent an average of just nine or 10 hours per month in the cockpit. When speaking at the Heritage Foundation, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson explained that fighter pilots flew for about 16.4 hours per month, while mobility pilots flew for about 17.3 hours per month. Bomber pilots, on the other hand, flew for an average of 19.7 hours per month, presumably because of the long-distance flights associated with training and combat. Overall, however, Air Force pilots only spend nine or 10 hours flying per month — something that the Air Force wants to change.
But the Air Force wants to increase the number of hours pilots spend in the cockpit. One of the reasons for the Air Force’s push for longer flight times is the simple fact that Marines are spending a significant amount of time in the cockpit. U.S. lawmakers recently revealed that Marines fly for 14 to 16 hours per month, which is more than Air Force pilots.
Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein says that several issues face the U.S. Air Force, including the ability to create pilots and the ability to retain them. “We’ve dug into the details and analyzed the issue. It really comes down to two areas that we are investing in and focused on,” said Goldfein. “One is how many pilots we produce and then, two, how many pilots we retain, because you have to get both of those right.” Goldfein also said that the Air Force is on track to achieve 1,400 pilots per year, although that probably won’t happen for at least another few years.
Of course, there are other ways to train Air Force pilots, such as flight simulators. The Air Force has access to some of the best flight simulators in the world, providing pilots with a realistic environment that mimics actual flight. The problem with these simulators, however, is that they don’t encompass all the elements of actual flight. When a pilot is in a simulator, for instance, he or she won’t experience the same stress and anxiety that comes with flying.
It’s unclear at this time if the Air Force will set a new rule requiring all pilots to fly for at least 20 hours per month. Nonetheless, the Air Force appears to be taking a proactive approach towards increasing the amount of time pilots spend in the cockpit.