Air Corps pilot retention scheme attracts 70% sign-up rate

Mixed results for Defence Forces retention schemes as strength continues to decline

Currently the Air Corps has 74 pilots, but has an establishment strength of 106. Photograph: Getty Images

Most senior Air Corps pilots have signalled they will remain with the force in the short term following the offer of State payments to stem the haemorrhage of highly-trained officers.

Fourteen officers ranging in rank from captain to lieutenant colonel signed up for a pilot retention scheme by last Friday’s deadline out of 20 who were eligible.

Currently the Air Corps has 74 pilots, but has an establishment strength of 106.

The retention scheme was launched earlier this year by Minster of State for Defence Paul Kehoe. Under it some pilots could qualify for €204,000 if they committed to staying for eight years. None did, however. Smaller sums were on offer for three and five-year commitments, which were accepted by the 14.


The Defence Forces’ recruitment and retention crisis has hit the Air Corps particularly hard as pilots and technicians quit for better-paid private sector jobs. It costs €1.72 million to train a pilot up to captain rank.

The training problems were highlighted recently when it was announced that the Emergency Aeromedical Service, which is flown by Air Corps pilots, will not fly for 16 days over the winter months due to staffing issues.

Department of Defence officials are broadly satisfied with the 70 per cent retention sign-up. However Raco, while welcoming the commitment of 14 officers with "huge operational experience", expressed concern about the six who did not sign up "for even one year.

"If 30 per cent of the most senior and qualified Air Corps pilots are planning to leave within the next year as this would suggest, then the current difficulties seem set to persist," said general secretary Conor King.

Efforts to bring back retired Air Corps officers attracted just two applicants this year, both lieutenant colonels.

The €10 million allowances package announced last July has failed to stem the numbers leaving. By the end of October, 706 people had left the Defence Forces including 56 officers, more than 500 enlisted personnel and over 140 recruits during training. In turn, 576 new recruits were brought in, leaving a shortfall of 130.

Discharge numbers

There is "no empirical evidence" that the efforts will stem exits, said the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDForra), which represents enlisted members.

"Discharge numbers show no signs of abating despite the restoration of payments. This leads to the obvious conclusion that more does in fact need to be done, and fast," said PDForra general secretary Gerard Guinan.

In a bid to encourage people to stay the Defence Forces has made a number of other changes, including the abolition of ration and accommodation charges for recruits and apprentices, and a new tax credit for sailors.

Sergeants and lower ranks recruited after 1994 and whose contracts have expired will also be permitted to stay on pending a review of age patterns in the Defence Forces.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times