Reid Statement on GAO Report Recommending RPA Pilot Changes in Air Force

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Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid today released the following statement after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued the findings of its study on the Air Force’s approach to managing its Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) workforce. Senator Reid and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin requested this GAO study after hearing a range of concerns from the Air Force RPA pilot community. GAO was asked to evaluate the Air Force’s approach to managing its RPA pilots as well as their quality of life and promotion rates.  GAO identified significant concerns in the Air Force’s RPA workforce management, including inadequate crew ratios supporting RPA missions, lagging promotions rates and obstacles to career-enhancing opportunities, and inadequate measures to address work-related stressors.

“Creech Air Force Base is home to one of the nation’s most valuable resources: pilots of the unmanned vehicles that carry out critical national security missions in challenging environments around the clock.  We must protect this national resource.  The GAO’s findings regarding management of our Air Force’s RPA pilot community are quite troubling. These individuals sacrifice so much to conduct missions vital to U.S. national security interests in a fast-paced, high stress environment every day. Given their mission’s importance, it is critical that the Air Force take necessary steps to ensure their success. Adequate manning for each mission, promoting a viable and vibrant career field, and addressing workplace stress are essential.  I fully expect the Air Force to swiftly implement the measures proposed by GAO. As always, I remain committed to ensuring our nation’s military has the proper training, equipment, and support on and off the battlefield.”


The Air Force has managed its remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) pilots using some strategic human-capital approaches, such as planning for the different levels of experience that it needs in these pilots. However, it continues to face challenges. High-performing organizations manage human capital to identify the right number of personnel and to target the right sources to fill personnel needs. In 2008, the Air Force determined the optimum number of RPA pilots—the crew ratio—for some units, but it did not account for all tasks these units complete. Air Force officials stated that, as a result, the crew ratio is too low, but the Air Force has not updated it. Air Force guidance states that low crew ratios diminish combat capability and jeopardize flight safety, but the Air Force has operated below its optimum crew ratio and it has not established a minimum crew ratio. Further, high work demands on RPA pilots limit the time available for training and development and negatively affect their work-life balance. In addition, the Air Force faces challenges recruiting officers into the RPA pilot career and may face challenges retaining them in the future. High-performing organizations tailor their recruiting and retention strategies to meet their specific mission needs, but the Air Force has not tailored its approach to recruiting and retaining RPA pilots nor considered the viability of using alternative personnel such as enlisted personnel or civilians. Without developing an approach to recruiting and retaining RPA pilots and evaluating the viability of using alternative personnel populations for the RPA pilot career, the Air Force may continue to face challenges, further exacerbating existing shortfalls of RPA pilots. Moreover, the Air Force has not incorporated direct feedback from RPA pilots via existing mechanisms, or otherwise, to develop its approach to managing challenges related to recruiting, retention, training, and development of RPA pilots.

GAO recommends that the Air Force update optimum crew ratios; establish a minimum crew ratio; develop a recruiting and retention strategy; evaluate using alternative personnel populations to be pilots; use feedback from RPA pilots; analyze the effects of being deployed-on-station; and analyze the effect that being an RPA pilot has on promotions. The Air Force concurred with four recommendations and partially concurred with the remaining three recommendations.


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