Task & Purpose – Opinion: “The (US) Marine Corps is Headed for a Pilot Exodus” by Brent Kreckman

14th May 2022

Task & Purpose recently published an opinion by Brent Kreckman, Assistant Air Officer for 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, entitled “The Marine Corps is Headed for a Pilot Exodus” that explains why the Corps is experiencing a looming pilot shortage. Check out extracts from the article below please find the full article here.

“During the early months of 2020, the Marine Corps was fighting a losing battle of its aviators resigning in droves to join commercial airlines. Only a few months prior, in late 2019, I had written an article attempting to detail how the Corps was lobbing ineffective bonuses, restricting pilots’ career choices, and failing to address systemic issues that push aviators to look for career options beyond the military. While I expected not to make many friends with the article, I had hoped identifying problems and proposing solutions would fuel some sort of positive change for Marine Corps pilot management. As I continued to plan my own departure from active duty service in 2020, I held out hope it might make a difference to those remaining in the aviation community after I was gone.

It was around this time that the Corps’ fight to retain Marine aviators worsened, as regional airlines were offering tens of thousands of dollars specifically for military helicopter pilots to train with and fly for them. Fixed-wing aviators had historically been in a better position to transition than their helicopter brethren with their ability to be hired directly into the major airlines, bypassing the regionals altogether. Going into 2020, all the trends and projections indicated the airline hiring frenzy showed no signs of letting up. Unbeknownst to anyone, the brewing COVID-19 pandemic would change all that.

As President Trump began implementing travel bans, which quickly led to individual states issuing their own full-blown lockdowns, one of the hardest-hit industries was commercial aviation. With virtually all air travel halted, even major government contracts for transporting military personnel, airlines were forced to furlough pilots, cancel training pipelines for new ones, and freeze hiring. The shuttering of most aviation operations enabled the Marine Corps to inadvertently score its best retention tool in years. Suddenly, officers across the Corps who had even the most well thought out plans to transition to civilian life were contacting their monitors — officers responsible for assigning orders to Marines — at Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC), asking them what they could do to stay on active duty. I know, because I was one of them.

The Corps wants to manage its “talent” better, but that still requires retaining the “talent” in the face of a reawakened airline industry.

Airline resurgence

If you Google the phrase “airline staff shortage” or something similar you will see headlines like:

  • Former NTSB Chair sounds alarm on airline safety amid staffing shortages (Fox Business)
  • American Airlines cancels hundreds of flights due to weather and staff shortages (NPR)
  • Southwest Airlines to Cut Flights Amid Staffing Shortages (Wall Street Journal)
  • Foreign Pilots Eyeing US Jobs Amid Employee Shortage (Simple Flying)

Headlines like these only seem to be increasing in frequency as travelers across the globe want to escape lengthy pandemic restrictions and experience normal life again. To many, these airline disruptions may seem concerning for travel plans or the stability of the industry, but to military aviators, we see an opportunity.

Pilot shortages have been noted for decades as the demand for air travel and air cargo continues to outpace the supply of new pilots trained year over year. Considering rising fuel and insurance prices, civilians looking to join the aviation industry face having to spend a small fortune and bury themselves in debt trying to gain qualifications that military aviators get paid handsomely to earn in Pensacola. Compounding that with the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours of flight time military pilots receive that would cost yet another small fortune for civilians to match, the military has been a primary source of qualified aviators for the airlines for decades. But after the military downsizing of the 1990s, and as we’re seeing again at the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military just isn’t producing as many pilots as it has in the past. This leaves airlines desperate to attract talent with bonuses and other benefits, often at the military’s expense, while leaving the DOD chasing its tail to stop the hemorrhaging of pilots.

Items that factor into a military pilot’s decision to leave for commercial aviation will always be specific to the individual, but there are common factors that drive aviators out of the military. Quality of life is always near the top of the list, often followed by lower work stress, living in a location of your choosing permanently, and sometimes just becoming disenchanted by the military itself. While many of these issues are inherent to the very nature of being on active duty versus being in a civilian organization – thus making them nearly impossible to address on the military’s part – for some aviators, the answer is as simple as the one thing the Corps actually can attempt to address: income. But this is also an uphill battle.

Simply put, the Marine Corps has difficulty addressing the concerns of its pilots, so it has turned to the Air Force model of throwing money at people. The problem is, that isn’t enough for us, and the equally desperate airlines are much better at leveraging incentives.”

Please read the full article here: Task & Purpose | Opinion | ‘The Marine Corps is Headed for a Pilot Exodus’ by Brent Kreckman

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