Cover: Modeling the Departure of Military Pilots from the Services

Modeling the Departure of Military Pilots from the Services

Published 2004

by Marc N. Elliott, Kanika Kapur, Carole Roan Gresenz


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High numbers of voluntary departures from the services by military pilots have periodically caused considerable concern among military administrators and policymakers, both recently and in previous periods of high attrition. In this study, the authors explore some determinants of the fixed-wing (airplane) pilot attrition problem among male pilots in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, and the responsiveness of attrition to changes in military compensation. The authors estimated a pilot attrition model that examines the impact on attrition from factors such as compensation, civilian airline hiring, and deployment. This study produced several noteworthy findings, including: (1) Increases in major airline hiring tend to increase military pilot voluntary departures to a great degree in the Air Force and to a lesser extent in the Navy; (2) although attrition was found to be quite responsive to bonus pay, counteracting a sizable increase in major airline hiring could be costly, particularly for the Air Force; (3) the significant impact of civilian major airline hiring on pilot attrition calls for a pilot management plan that will enable the armed forces to respond to strong outside influences; and (4) the pay profile and lifestyle offered by the major civilian airlines contrast sharply with those of their military counterparts.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center supported by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies.

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