The US Air Force needs way more drone pilots

Help wanted.
Help wanted.
Image: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
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The drone program run by the US Air Force lacks so much manpower that it is at a “breaking point” an official told The Daily Beast.

The website reports that according to an internal memo between top generals, the force has enough drones, but so few pilots that it may not be able to fulfill the growing demand for air patrols. With its efforts aimed at ISIL in Iraq and Syria the Pentagon is pushing back against the pleas of the Air Combat Command, which runs the program, to reduce the number of flights.

An unnamed senior military official told the Daily Beast that the force has been at the “breaking point” for a “long time,” and what was different now was that “band-aid fixes are no longer working.”

At the moment, the Air Force has seven pilots per eight slots, but that is not the extent of the shortage—the program requires other machine operators and maintenance crews, and intelligence analysts to go through the footage.

With the high-pressure work, long hours, and leave days canceled many disillusioned pilots left the job. Two reports last year showed that the job was incredibly demanding and offered few rewards. In fact, it’s a dead-end jobA report by US Air Force Col. Bradley Hoagland found that the drone pilots can’t attend the required training to advance in the ranks, and are hence less likely to get promoted than other Air Force officers.

And if the rules proposed by the US Federal Aviation Administration in 2014 are instituted, they may reduce the pool of US military drone pilots even further. The FAA may require that commercial drones be only operated by licensed pilots, potentially leading businesses to siphon away the Air Force’s drone pilot ranks.