The Italian air force is facing a pilot crisis with between two and three times the average number of pilots having left the air force in 1996 and 1997.

By the end of 1997, some 300 pilots will have left the air force since the end of 1995, substantially above the expected annual average of 70. Gen Mario Arpino, the Chief of Staff, has already expressed his concern over the rate of pilot attrition to defence minister Beniamino Andreatta.

A major part of the problem is that aircrew are being enticed away by airlines offering much larger salaries. Arpino has already met Fausto Cereti, Alitalia chairman, in an attempt to find a compromise which would slow down the airline's rate of hiring air force pilots.

The air force's problems are compounded by the fact that retirement requests are coming from middle- and senior-ranking pilots. Air force pilots have to end their flying tours at 35-37, so pilots in their early 30s who wish to continue flying have little incentive to remain in the service.

The air force has an inventory of some 800 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft with around 1,500 pilots. Only 1,000 of these, however, are allocated to operational units. Given the pilot-to-aircraft ratio, the Italian air force cannot sustain the present rate of losses, even allowing for the proposed reduction in its size.

Source: Flight International