Three-stars: Marine, naval aviators and maintainers endure diminished flight hours, lack of spare parts

By: David B. Larter

Pilots and maintainers just want do their jobs, but readiness shortfalls are stopping them.

That was the message from the three-star heads of Marine Corps and Navy personnel during a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday. The hearing was meant to address competition for trained pilots from the private industry, an issue that has bled the Air Force of a number of pilots.

The Navy and Marine Corps have had fewer issues with losing pilots to private airlines but both officers say there is a growing frustration with the lack of flying hours for pilots and critical spare parts for maintainers, a byproduct of the last several years of budget cuts.

That’s something that is beginning to eat away at retention, said Vice Adm. Robert Burke, chief of naval personnel.

“Naval aviators have expressed dissatisfaction with quality of service resulting from readiness challenges associated with limited aircraft availability and reduced flying hours while not deployed, which have inhibited timely attainment of tactical qualifications and subsequent career progression,” Burke said in his opening statement.

Burke said he’s seen some shortfalls in department heads — typically O-4s — in the electronic attack, strike fighter and helicopter mine countermeasure communities, and also among post-command officers — typically O-5s up for promotion to captain. The Navy is examining adjusting the bonuses to sweeten the pot for those officers, he said.

Marine Deputy Commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis echoed that sentiment, saying that while some bonuses are opening up for the first time since 2011, the retention concerns he has are related to reduced readiness.

A recent survey conducted inside the aviation community showed rising frustration on the part of aviators and maintainers. The frustrations with readiness shortfalls have been compounded by a crushing 2:1 dwell ration.

“It’s not about money, it’s about doing what they came into the Marine Corps to do, which is to fly airplanes, to fix airplanes and serve those aircraft,” Brilakis said. “They want more time to fly, they want more parts to fix, and they’d like a little more time at home.”

Both Burke and Brilakis said the shortfalls would dramatically increase if Congress is unable to reach a budget agreement for 2017, which would trigger severe cutbacks in flight hours and maintenance by late spring.

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