Artillery: June 8, 2004

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The Russian air force is losing more pilots than it is gaining. In 2003, 945 pilots left through retirement and, mostly, by resigning. Only 469 new pilots came out of the flight schools. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the Soviet air forces had some 5,000 aircraft and about 13,000 pilots. As a result of the Soviet Union's collapse, the air force budget was cut by more than half over the next few years. By the mid 1990s, Russian fighter pilots were flying only 40 hours a year (long range bomber pilots were getting 80 hours and transport pilots about 150 hours.) This compares to Western air forces, where fighter pilots get about 200 hours in the air each year. The Russian accident rate (per 100,000 flight hours) was about twice what it was in Western air forces. 

As a result of the declining budgets, the Russian air force now only has about 2,000 flyable aircraft, and each of the 5,000 pilots available get 20-40 hours in the air a year. Pilots are leaving because they cant fly, but more importantly they are going in larger numbers because the Russian economy is booming and employment opportunities for former military pilots are much more promising.

The Russian air force is starting a rebuilding process, buying new aircraft and more spare parts so existing planes can be flown more often, and be operational more often. But a lot of progress will have to be made in the next few years to stem the growing loss of pilots.


 


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