If you’re an aviator or flight officer who was passed over for command or want to avoid the traditional career track, the Navy might have a good gig for you.

According to NavAdmin 241/18 released Sept. 28, a Navy selection board will convene in late November to pick 20 naval aviators and flight officers to become permanent flight instructors. Officials hope that the move will help retain experienced aviators in the service while slashing the need to yank pilots from the fleet to fill critical training billets.

“We are actually at a place now with aviation manning where we are pulling pilots to be flight instructors, and that’s causing shortages in operational squadrons,” the Navy’s top personnel officer, Vice Adm. Bob Burke, told Navy Times in July. “If we can give officers who would otherwise leave and give them the opportunity to remain on as long-term flight instructors using these new authorities it would be a win for us.”

The panel will convene Nov. 20, at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee, showing that the Navy is quickly seizing on recent reforms instituted by Congress.

Tucked into the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act is language amending the landmark Defense Officer Personnel Management Act — or DOPMA — that’s guided career paths and promotions for military officers since 1980.

The new law triggered the services to begin experimenting on Oct. 1 with radically new non-command career routes, including revamping some promotion and tenure rules and direct commissioning private sector experts into the military at higher ranks than were previously allowed.

The Navy’s pilot program for aviators spearheads the Navy’s use of the new authority. Vice Adm. Burke told Navy Times that he plans on using similar programs to retain experienced officers in other communities, too.

Burke said in July says that many pilots told Navy leaders they’d stick around if allowed to “just fly” but no one knows how many aviators will jump to the instructor billets.

According to Navy Personnel Command, there are 991 active duty officers in designators 1310 and 1320 who could apply for the program. Drilling and full-time support reservists are not eligible.

“This is a voluntary program and we will not know the full scope of the eligibles until all applications have been received,” said Naval Personnel Command spokeswoman Katie Suich. “This number depicts all O-4 and O-5 officers that have a projected rotation date in 2019 and who have at least 36 months until any statutory retirement date.”

Those officers must currently be on or have completed their operational or operational-training aviation department head assignment and have previously served as a flight instructor, although the message indicates that waivers might be considered.

Once chosen, these officers will ineligible to compete for command and will be tagged with an additional qualification code marking them to only fill billets in fleet replacement squadrons and at primary, intermediate and advanced flight commands.

Future assignment will stem from those types of billets “until the member either retires, voluntarily withdraws from the PFI program or fails to meet performance standards,” according to the directive.

Tours will be for 36 months and advancement will be limited. For lieutenant commanders entering this career path, they’ll be eligible for advancement to commander but won’t be allowed to go beyond that pay grade.

Officers also can opt out of the program and return to the fleet once they’ve completed their initial 36-month assignment.

"We’ll start small to see how this works and we’ll see how many really stay on long-term,” Burke said. “Then if it’s working well, we’ll grow it but we are planning that there will always be a balance, a mix of fleet returnees and the permanent instructors.”

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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