Israel Air Force Offers to Shorten Hundreds of Pilots’ Contracts in Cost-cutting Move

Cutbacks aimed at reducing number of majors in IAF, who receive extra benefits.

IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The Israel Air Force is offering hundreds of pilots to shorten their service by two years and leave the military when they are about 28 years old. This would require their agreement to change their career paths and leave the service as captains, before being promoted to major, though they would continue in the reserves.

Many of the pilots affected have complained this is a worsening of their employment conditions, which included the promotion, raises and a car from the Israel Defense Forces.

Last year, the IAF changed its career program for aircrews. Since the beginning of 2015 pilots, navigators and flight engineers are required to sign up for only seven years of professional military service after finishing their three years in the flight academy. Until then, they were required to sign up for nine years in the professional military. The nine-year program was created when a bachelor’s degree requirement was added to the flight academy program, and also included time for obtaining a master’s degree during the nine years.

Because of the time added on, all pilots received a promotion to major within this period. This created a situation where a large number of now senior officers were placed in various jobs all over the Air Force that had nothing to do with their flight training.

In recent months, the IAF has begun offering hundreds of pilots and other aircrew, at the relatively young ages of 22 to 27, to change their career path and leave two years earlier. In general, these officers are serving in the Air Force’s operational squadrons.

An officer involved in IAF manpower explained that while the pilots may have signed for nine years and were promised a master’s degree program, the other benefits stemming from the program have become standard, even if they were not part of the original contract and commitments. For example, because the law grants tenure and other job protections for civil service jobs after seven years, many pilots received the rank of major – the IDF’s equivalent of receiving tenure and job security – even though their positions did not require, or grant such tenure. In this way, the rank of major became a fixed part of the career path, even if it was not part of the contract signed when the aircrews began their training. Receiving the rank of major also entitles the officers to a car from the military, a raise and many other benefits.

“We decided the promotion to major is not a matter of time served – it [depends on] the position. We think it is justified,” the personnel officer told Haaretz. “I know some [of the pilots affected] feel hurt, but considering what they signed in their contracts, no harm is being caused.”

While the various benefits may have become the norm, today conditions are different and the IDF has laid off 2,500 people from the professional military, he said. The Air Force can no longer keep to the new conditions and it is not right to discriminate in favor of aircrews over other parts of the military, added the officer.

The Air Force has held talks with aircrews in their squadrons in recent months to present the options. They are supposed to decide next week, before the Passover holiday.

“We are conducting a dialogue with the people who will choose whether they want seven or nine years. People who choose to leave and become teachers or doctors – I will be pleased if they do so as early as possible, from our perspective that is age 28,” a senior Air Force officer who serves as a base commander told Haaretz. “Whoever chooses to remain, we will know how to offer them a better career path.”

Some of the aircrew officers involved feel they will lose benefits if they leave early, and some say they have been pressured somewhat in an attempt to have them choose to shorten their service.

The IAF says it has presented the alternatives and the advantages and disadvantages in full, but nonetheless has not hidden the IDF’s position that the seven-year plan is preferred.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said: “The model of signing seven years of service for aircrews was set in 2015 in light of the IDF’s policies, after the Air Force conducted comprehensive staff work [on the issue]. Differentiating between the career paths has clear advantages for the individual and the system, both for progression on the command path and for jobs in civilian life. The ‘transitional generation’ has been offered the possibility of choosing between the two tracks, with all the implications and conditions presented to them with full transparency.”