Cover: Can the Air Force and Airlines Collaborate for Mutual Benefit?

Can the Air Force and Airlines Collaborate for Mutual Benefit?

An Exploration of Pilot and Maintenance Workforce Options

Published Apr 21, 2016

by Anthony D. Rosello, James H. Bigelow, Maya Buenaventura, Christopher M. Carson, Rebecca Herman, Michael McGee, Jaime L. Hastings, Muharrem Mane, Daniel M. Romano, Craig Vara, et al.

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Research Questions

  1. How does airline hiring affect military operations?
  2. How does military scheduling affect airline operations?
  3. What are incentives for service members to remain with the military or separate and seek airline employment?

This report encapsulates the analysis and results of the Air Force–Airline Industry Collaboration project, which investigated the viability of options for the Air Force and commercial airlines to collaborate on issues related to their pilot and maintenance workforces by evaluating benefits, costs, and feasibility from the perspectives of the Air Force and commercial airlines. The report concludes that certain avenues of collaboration, such as scheduling drill weekends in ways that work with airline planning, could benefit both parties.

Key Findings

In Many Ways, Airlines and the Air Force Already Complement Each Other

  • Airline hiring will remain strong.
  • Major airlines are not a significant employment draw away from the Air Force for the maintenance workforce.
  • Major airline pay incentivizes Air Force pilots to separate.
  • Air Reserve Component full-time turnover also correlates with major airline hiring.
  • Experienced pilot candidates perform significantly better at undergraduate pilot training.
  • Most major airlines are not interested in collaborating on part-time, sabbatical, or seasoning options.


  • The Air Force should stay engaged with airlines, the FAA, pilot unions, and universities.
  • The Air Force should recruit pilot candidates with airline experience.
  • The Air Force should credit overseas sorties for Air Reserve Component airline pilots.
  • The Air Reserve Component should consider splitting drills between second and third weekends of the month to accommodate airlines' monthly scheduling process.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Headquarters, Air Force Director of Future Operations (AF/A35) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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