From Chief of Navy Personnel
The Navy announced March 20 the Active Component (AC) fiscal year 2018 Aviation Department Head Retention Bonus (ADHRB) and Aviation Command Retention Bonus (ACRB) and the expansion of Aviation Incentive Pay (AvIP) for both AC and the Reserve Component aviators in NAVADMIN 065/18. Captain Wayne Baze, head of aviation officer assignments, PERS-43, at Naval Personnel Command and a career aviator himself, conducted a question and answer session to provide more information on the incentives we are offering Naval Aviators. Navy Continues and Expands Aviation Bonus Program-Navy.mi
Q: Is the Navy having a hard time recruiting and retaining Naval Aviators, and are the monetary incentives meant to entice them to join and stay?
A: We are not experiencing challenges recruiting highly talented men and women willing to serve as aviators. Naval Aviation also continues to possess sufficient numbers of pilots and Naval Flight Officers (Rotary, Maritime Patrol and Tactical Aircraft Communities combined) to meet our nation’s operational requirements. We are, however, experiencing growing challenges retaining aviators in some communities—especially strike fighter (VFA) and electronic attack (VAQ) pilots—that threaten long-term inventory health and our ability to continue meeting requirements in the future.
Naval Aviation is experiencing declining retention rates of mid-grade officers and post-Command Commanders in some Type/Model/Series and designators—especially our fighter pilot communities. This is a significant problem because those officers are the talent pool we draw from to fulfill critical leadership roles, such as squadron Department Heads or more senior positions requiring command experienced aviators (e.g., Heads of Departments on aircraft carriers, Air Bosses on large deck amphibious assault ships, Major Staff billets afloat and ashore).
Fleet feedback indicates aviators are leaving service early due to: high operational tempo, deployment length/unpredictability; lack of non-deployed flight hours; quality of service dissatisfiers, especially in non-fleet concentration areas; and a broadening pay gap as compared with private industry as our economy improves and airline hiring rates continue to grow. Many lines of effort are underway by Naval Aviation leadership to address each of these concerns—monetary incentives being only one area we are striving to make improvements in.
Our Aviation Bonus (AvB) and Aviation Incentive Pay (AvIP) or flight pay programs have proven successful in the past in helping retain our best and brightest. However, these programs have remained essentially unchanged for well over a decade, and are beginning to lose their effectiveness in the face of the growing competition for talent. We asked aviators of every rank how we should modernize and improve moving forward. The themes were unanimous. Aviators want their monetary incentive programs to be more flexible, merit based, and competitive with civilian opportunities. We took that feedback seriously, incorporating each of these elements in the program changes you see today. Coupled with non-monetary incentives underway, these new monetary incentives will help us better retain the warfighting talent we need into the future.
Q: What were the exact major changes made to the ADHRB, ACRB, and AvIP?
A: Statutory changes in AvB and AvIP structures and maximum levels in 2017 afforded all services an opportunity to make significant monetary incentive program improvements. In Naval Aviation’s case, we are utilizing these new authorities to tackle our retention challenges head on. The new program incorporates significant, across-the-board changes to all three elements of our monetary incentives—ADHRB, ACRB and AvIP. The new approach synchronizes targeted increases in both flight pay and bonuses in a mutually supportive fashion linked to achievement of leadership milestones (Department Head, Command, Major Command). The end state will be a judiciously applied, merit based, more competitive continuum of pay for our top Aviators. Details include:
ADHRB Changes: The legacy ADHRB consisted of only one option…a five-year contract, with eligibility based on Minimum Service Requirement (MSR) after Winging. Fleet feedback consistently indicates officers want greater flexibility/choice in this program. Also, many did not like the legacy eligibility rules based on MSR because they contributed to differences between communities as to when an officer may actually start receiving the bonus.
To address the flexibility/choice piece we now offer both five and three-year contract options. To address the challenges of differences in bonus timeline under the old MSR-based system, we are shifting eligibility for the ADHRB to O-4 selection. This will eliminate community differences in timing, and bring the bonus commitment closer to the time an officer is actually screened for Department Head.
As with the legacy program, we will continue paying ADHRB rates tiered according to relative Type/Model/Series and designator inventory strengths, with communities most undermanned being offered the highest amounts. Different in our new program, however, is that several communities will be able to receive higher bonus rates due to 2017 statutory changes that raised the maximum caps for annual bonus installments from $25K to $35K. Also, we have added “early bonus taker” incentives into this plan; paying the maximum rates allowed by Type/Model/Series and designator to those who sign on early for the five-year contract option.
ACRB Changes: The legacy ACRB is a two-year contract aimed not at rewarding command, but rather at retaining officers post-Command to serve in the many afloat and ashore billets where high levels of aviation experience are needed. The ACRB is designed to retain those officers with the talent and command experience in primary warfighting missions that are critical for the future of our service. Yet many officers today viewed the legacy ACRB amounts as non-competitive as a retention incentive when compared with civilian job alternatives. We have seen a strong correlation between increasing airline hiring rates since 2010 and increasing resignation/retirement rates of our post-Commanding Officers.
The new ACRB shifts from the legacy 2-year, $36K total contract to a 3-year, $100K total contract. Members must commit to this bonus after screening for commander command and the obligation takes them through the completion of their post-Commander Command tour or 22 years of service, whichever comes later.
AvIP Changes: Legacy flight pay is based on a rigid scale set around Years of Aviation Service (YAS) gates. The old DOD pay scale topped our flight pay out at 14 YAS and $850 per month. The legacy pay scale was the same for all officers, irrespective of career milestone achievement. 2017 statutory changes raised the maximums allowed at each YAS gate (as high as $1,000 per month), shifted the max pay gate left to the 10 YAS point, and made the pay up to these new DOD maximums discretionary according to service requirements.
Utilizing these new authorities, Navy is establishing expanded flight pay rates for aviators who screen and serve in career milestone billets. Aviators who do not screen or serve in milestone billets, but continue to qualify for flight pay, will continue receiving flight pay at the legacy rates without change. It is important to note that the timing of our new maximum flight pay rate, $1,000 per month AvIP when over 10 YAS closely aligns with the timing of our ADHRB offering (as officers are looked at for Department Head just after this same time). So our younger officers who screen for Department Head can expect to see a double incentive—bonus plus flight pay—hitting their pocket books at the mid-grade officer point.
Q: What is the incentive of signing for Department Head early, and how does this help the Aviator and the Navy?
A: Aviators can choose from a five or three-year contract. Members who take the five-year contract early (between O-4 selection and screening for Department Head) will receive higher annual amounts than members who take five or three-year contracts after they have screened for Department Head.
The “early bonus taker” incentive program rightfully rewards our officers for their loyalty and commitment to longer service. In return, early ADHRB signing helps the Navy by increasing the stability and predictability of our officer inventory—encouraging longer service commitments, and helping ensure our population of high-performing Aviators will be with us through Department Head and beyond.
Q: When will this policy go into effect?
A: The new AvB and AvIP policy changes take effect as of the release of NAVADMIN 065/18. Bonus programs kick in immediately. The new flight pay rates will commence on 1 April 2018. NAVADMIN 065/18 identifies the specific eligibility requirements for all aspects of these programs as well as points of contact on my PERS-43 team who can answer specific questions regarding eligibility and the application process.
Q: Have previous efforts to incentivize Aviators worked to meet goals in the past?
A: Our Aviation Bonus (AVB) and Aviation Incentive Pay (AvIP) or flight pay programs have proven successful in the past in helping retain our best and brightest. However, these programs have remained essentially unchanged for well over a decade, and are beginning to lose their effectiveness in the face of the growing competition for talent. It was time for an update to these proven retention tools to ensure they maintain their effectiveness and relevance. Each year moving forward we will review the progress of these efforts, making further program improvements when/if warranted by our fleet requirements.
Q: Are these bonuses and incentives part of a larger effort meant to recruit and retain personnel?
A: Yes. We know that compensation is not the only reason some aviators are choosing to leave early. Naval Aviators are departing for myriad reasons. The commercial airline industry is expected to hire at an increased level, providing a lucrative alternative for highly sought after aviators with requisite knowledge and experience. But high operational tempo, deployment length and unpredictability, lack of flight hours due to funding, and lack of flight hours due to aircraft maintenance and parts shortages also negatively impact aviator retention.
Many lines of effort are underway by Naval Aviation leadership to address each of these concerns—monetary incentives being only one area we are striving to make improvements in. For example, there are significant efforts ongoing in Naval Aviation to improve the underlying resource challenges impacting flight hours and aircraft readiness such as the Rhino Readiness Recovery effort to address maintainer retention/training issues, spare parts availability, and depot level maintenance to increase the Strike Fighter inventory. There are also efforts underway to reduce administrative burdens. And the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) is helping mitigate OPTEMPO uncertainty and individual deployment duration/frequency–reducing deployment lengths, increasing dwell time for Naval Aviation, and spreading deployments more evenly across the force.
Considering non-monetary personnel retention initiatives…Navy wide efforts such as Fitness Report modernization that will help decouple career timing and milestone achievement in the relatively time constrained Navy Aviation career path are resonating well with young Aviators who want more flexible career paths/options. Aviation has significantly expanded opportunities in graduate school education, fellowships, Tours with Industry, and the Career Intermission Program. Also, Aviation is exploring alternate career path options for some officers such as a Professional Flight Instructors.
Ultimately we know that continuous improvement along parallel lines (both monetary and non-monetary) is the key to keeping our force relevant and attractive to our talented women and men in Aviation; and key to maintaining our warfighting excellence.
Captain Wayne Baze is the Director of Aviation Warfare Distribution at Navy Personnel Command. He was commissioned in 1990 and designated a Naval Aviator in 1992, flying the SH-60B. His command tours have included Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light 45 (HSL 45) and USS AMERICA (LHA 6). Major staff assignments have included Joint Staff J-3 Joint Operations Division; Aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Deputy Director for Aviation Distribution and Head Air Combat Placement Officer at NPC. He holds a Masters in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School; and served as an Associate Fellow on the CNO’s Strategic Studies Group.