Job Hunting? Drone Pilots Are Getting $125,000 Bonuses

December 19, 2015, 1:00 PM UTC
U.S. Air And Marine Predator Drones Launch For Missions Overlooking U.S.-Mexico Border
SIERRA VISTA, AZ - MARCH 07: Maintenence personel check a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The OAM, which is part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, flies the unmanned - and unarmed - MQ-9 Predator B aircraft an average of 12 hours per day at around 19,000 feet over southern Arizona. The drones, piloted from the ground, search for drug smugglers and immigrants crossing illegally from Mexico into the United States. Due to federal sequestration cuts, Customs and Border Protection is expected to lose $500 million from its budget, and OAM staff at Ft. Huachuca are now taking unpaid furlough days once every two weeks. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Photograph by John Moore—Getty Images

If you’re a US Air Force drone pilot, and your return to civilian life is fast approaching, the service has an offer that may be too good to pass up. Instead of going home, the Air Force will give you a bonus of $125,000, in exchange for an agreement to serve for five more years, according to Air Force Times.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. In July, the Air Force first proposed retention bonuses of $15,000 a year for pilots making new commitments of five or nine years to the service, for a total of $75,000 or $135,000, respectively. But according to Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson, that was just “a projection,” and the newer, higher figure is the one that will be implemented.

The Air Force said in a press release Tuesday that those qualified to operate remotely piloted aircraft – known as 18X RPA pilots — are eligible for the bonus on the basis of $25,000 a year, for five years. In order to qualify, pilots must already have six years of aviation service under their belts, after the completion of undergraduate RPA training.

Officers must also have attained the rank of active duty lieutenant colonel or below, and must already be receiving incentive pay for RPA aviation. Finally, the five-year bonus period cannot overlap with the completion of 25 years of active duty service.

Those renewing their service have the option of being awarded 50% of the bonus at the beginning of their new commitment.

The Obama administration’s use of drones in its anti-terrorism efforts has been controversial. According to a Pew Research Center survey from May, U.S. drone strikes against terrorist targets in such countries as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen had the support of 58% of those surveyed. However, this support comes despite well-publicized incidents in which drone attacks have killed innocent civilians, such as in a December 2013 strike against a convoy that was part of a wedding party in Yemen.

Despite incidents such as these, the bonus suggests that drone strikes will continue to be part of the United States military’s efforts. After all, the use of drones has expanded to fields outside of the military, and recent events indicate that it is likely to continue to do so.

In August, Fortune reported that drones are being used in such fields as mining, wildlife research and agriculture. The e-commerce giant Amazon has also famously announced its intention to use drones to deliver your packages, and Unmanned Vehicle University in Phoenix is just one of the latest institutions of higher learning to offer drone pilot training.

This suggests that whatever the negatives, drones may be here to stay, and the bonus being offered to Air Force personnel would appear to indicate that RPA pilots will be as valuable a tool to the military as traditional pilots have been in the past.

“These airmen are making extremely important contributions to the fight,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in Tuesday’s press release. “We need these professionals to stay with us and we’re committed to retaining them in our force.”

Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.

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