Interactive graphic

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Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps Pilot Staffing Levels

GAO-18-439, June 21, 2018

Military pilots conduct critical national security activities like combat, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Retaining qualified pilots is important not only to meet operational requirements, but also to recoup the substantial investments (of both time and money) that the military makes when training pilots. For example, an Air Force fighter pilot requires about 2 years of training—which can cost between $3-11 million (depending on the aircraft), according to Air Force officials.

However, the military has had problems retaining its pilots because of issues like high operational tempo, low unemployment, and an increased demand for pilots in the commercial airline industry.

This interactive graphic shows the staffing levels authorized by the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps for fighter pilots. Specifically, we looked at active (non-reserve) operational positions—such as combat and instructor pilots. We compared these levels with the actual number of pilots available to staff those positions during fiscal years 2013-2017. A number below 100 percent indicates that actual staffing levels are lower than the levels authorized by the services (i.e., a staffing gap).

Use the legend to show or hide a service. Hover over a year on the graphic’s lines to see detailed numbers.

Fighter Pilot Operational Position Staffing Levels, FYS 2013-2017
Percent filled
Fiscal year
Legend - Click on a legend icon to show or hide a service.

Source: GAO analysis of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps staffing levels. | GAO-18-439

Notes: The Navy monitors and manages its pilot communities at career milestones, three of which were within the scope of our review: a pilot’s first operational tour at sea, a mid-career operational leadership tour for Department Heads, and a leadership tour for Commanders. The Navy stated that unlike subsequent milestones, the first tour milestone cannot be staffed with naval flight officers or naval aviators from the same community.


This interactive graphic shows the active operational position staffing levels for multiple types of pilots in the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps. Select a service from the drop down menu; click on an icon in the legend to show or hide a pilot category; and hover over a year on the graphic’s lines to see detailed numbers.

Select a service
Pilot Operational Position Staffing Levels for the Air Force, FYS 2013-2017
Percent filled
Fiscal year
Legend - Click on a legend icon to show or hide a pilot category.







Pilot Operational Position Staffing Levels for the Marine Corps, FYS 2013-2017
Percent filled
Fiscal year
Legend - Click on a legend icon to show or hide a pilot category.







Percent filled
Fiscal year
Legend - Click on a legend icon to show or hide a pilot category.







Percent filled
Fiscal year
Legend - Click on a legend icon to show or hide a pilot category.







Percent filled
Fiscal year
Legend - Click on a legend icon to show or hide a pilot category.

Source: GAO analysis of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps staffing levels. | GAO-18-439

Note: While some types of pilots may appear to have a surplus, pilots are also needed for non-operational positions (such as desk jobs).

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For more information, read our report, GAO-18-439.