breaking news

Eight records fall at Clark Country track and field championships

Air Force continues to address shortage of aircraft maintainers

A massive shortfall of Air Force aircraft maintainers that caused “severe turbulence” in manning has dropped from thousands to hundreds, the service branch said.

The Air Force has a shortage of about 400 maintainers on active duty, a significant drop from a gap of 3,400 a year ago and 4,000 in 2015, a spokeswoman said.

Despite the gains, getting seasoned maintainers to repair the oldest fleet in the Air Force’s history will take years to reach, according to the service branch.

“While our manning numbers have improved, it will take five to seven years to get them seasoned and experienced,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura M. McAndrews said in an email. ”We are continuously evaluating our readiness as quickly and effectively as possible.”

RELATED: Air Force facing growing crisis in pilot shortage

A shortage of maintainers isn’t the only problem the Air Force has confronted on the flight line.

Fewer aviators — particularly fighter pilots — are staying on the job in the Air Force, a problem that has grown over the past year on active duty, in the reserve and in the Air National Guard. The Air Force was about 2,000 pilots short — including 1,300 fighter pilots — as of the most recent figures.

Over the past decade, sequestration – or automatic defense spending reductions under the Budget Control Act of 2011 – budget constraints and management of the force have eroded the number of maintainers in ranks, according to McAndrews.

Filling the gap

The Air Force ramped up production by training an additional 2,000 maintainers on active duty in fiscal year 2017, and will train an additional 1,000 in fiscal year 2018. To fill jobs, the military branch offered re-enlistment bonuses, extended the time senior airmen could stay in uniform and allowed prior maintainers to rejoin, McAndrews said.

The Air Force Reserve 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has a shortage of more than 20 aircraft maintainers, said Lt. Col. Jay Smeltzer, the wing’s maintenance group deputy commander.

Full time maintainer jobs in the wing are known as air reserve technicians who have a dual role as both a civilian employee during the week and a reservist during drill weekends, training or deployments. The airlift wing flies nine C-17 Globemaster III transport jets to support operations around the world. Vacancies are in key jobs such as aircraft mechanics to electricians, he said.

“I think over the years people have sought other employment that does not have the reserve side to the job,” he said. “It’s more attractive to them to go to another industry or another government agency without worrying about the military requirements.”

RELATED: Foreign military sales more than triple at Wright Patt agency

Smeltzer said the wing doesn’t have the same gap among traditional reservists, and full-time job vacancies haven’t deterred flight operations.

“It hasn’t crippled us by any means, but it has created pinch points,” he said.

Overall, as the Air Force fleet of planes has shrunk, the number of active-duty aircraft maintainers has fallen 17 percent since 2004, data shows.

Nearly 66,700 maintainers are in the Air Force on active duty today.

Toll on readiness

Richard Aboulafia, a senior aerospace consultant with the Virginia-based Teal Group, said the Air Force maintainer shortfall has had an impact servicewide.

“It has really taken a toll in readiness,” he said.

For nearly three decades, the Air Force has flown continuous combat operations in the Middle East while the average aircraft age has reached 27 years old, military leaders have said.

“What’s depressing is that I just don’t think this is going to get any better any time soon because the country is prioritizing tax cuts over defense and yet isn’t changing its tempo of operations,” Aboulafia said.

The senior analyst said the Air Force faced three choices: Reduce operations, spend more on defense, or watch readiness suffer.

The country has watched readiness erode “for quite a few years now,” he said.

RELATED: General: Spending needed if you want to hire; fly B-52 until 2040

The Air Force has had to choose between restoring aging planes – such as major structural work on F-15 Eagle fighters — or upgrading a plane’s combat capability, he added.

“You’ve got to keep them flying before you can add new technologies and features that would make them more effective,” he said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Military

Australia, NZ, U.S. troops to mark ANZAC Day at Wright-Patt
Australia, NZ, U.S. troops to mark ANZAC Day at Wright-Patt

Australian, New Zealand and U.S. Air Force troops will mark ANZAC Day in a ceremony Wednesday at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. ANZAC Day commemorates the first major battle Australian and New Zealand troops fought as allies in World War I. The ceremony is set from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. at the Air Force museum’s Memorial Park. RELATED...
The fascinating 19th century history behind a Springfield school namesake
The fascinating 19th century history behind a Springfield school namesake

This Memorial Day, Clark Countians may need to be reminded that Gen. J. Warren Keifer’s last name rhymes with Michelle Pfeiffer’s last name and isn’t pronounced like Kiefer Sutherland’s first. It also would bear mention that the man for whom Springfield’s public alternative high school is named commanded a brigade of...
Air Force urged to pick Wright-Patterson for hundreds more jobs
Air Force urged to pick Wright-Patterson for hundreds more jobs

Wright-Patterson could add 400 jobs if Air Force leaders are persuaded by Ohio’s congressional delegation to locate a F-35 stealth fighter office to the Miami Valley base. The Defense Department and the Air Force have not said how many bases are in contention for the F-35 Product Hybrid Support Integrator Organization. But Dayton Area Chamber...
AF Thunderbirds return to practice, but more shows could be canceled
AF Thunderbirds return to practice, but more shows could be canceled

The Air Force Thunderbirds return to training over the Nevada desert Wednesday, but have not announced a date the demonstration team will return to the air show circuit, the team’s leader said. The team had suspended flights and canceled public performances since a tragic April 4 crash killed Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno during...
A fair with a flavor: 17 countries part of Wright-Patt festival
A fair with a flavor: 17 countries part of Wright-Patt festival

A party in Dayton had an international flavor Tuesday. People from 17 countries and more than 120 volunteers came together to celebrate the Wright-Patterson International Spouses Group’s International Fair at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn. The cultures spanned Japan to the Spain, and Bali to the Philippines, among other places around the globe...
More Stories