New Air Force Secretary Deborah James has made it clear that it’s about time the service’s drone pilot force gets paid. She announced Thursday that she was more than doubling monthly incentive pay for drone pilots from $600 to $1,500.
The demand for Air Force drones such as the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reapers has not waned since U.S. troops have moved out of Iraq and Afghanistan. If anything, it has created an increased demand for their surveillance capabilities in places U.S. and coalition troops had been deployed.
At the same time, drone pilots are fleeing the Air Force for a host of reasons — overwork, lower bonuses than manned aircraft pilots and outside opportunities. Drone pilots are operating aircraft about triple the number of hours as manned aircraft pilots. This has a lot to do with combat requirements as well as the cost of flying manned aircraft versus the drones.
No matter what the cause, it has created a major problem for a service that remains committed to keeping drone pilots as officers.
James promised that she would continue to work to relieve some of the pressure on the drone pilots and beef up their incentive pay.