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The "Age 60 Rule"

AGE 60 Rule Defeated.  Retirement at age 65 Now Law of the Land

The age 60 rule has been changed yielding to the majority of pilots and aerospace physicians who believed that an arbitrary number was chosen without substantial evidence correlating age to safety. 

Pilot Medical Solutions position has always been that the mandatory retirement of pilots at age 60 was a political issue rather than one of safety or medicine.

SEE ALSO:

AARP Bulletin, Experience Counts

Allied Pilots Association Position

Aerospace Medical Association Position Statement

 

U.S. pilots can fly until 65
Bush signs bill raising retirement age, ends debate dating to 1950s


By Julie Johnsson
chicagotribune.com
Tribune staff reporter

December 14, 2007

Ending an airline industry controversy that has smoldered for a half-century, President Bush signed a bill Thursday that raises the retirement age for commercial pilots to 65 from 60, a standard observed by the rest of the world.

Pilots say the new law reflects the reality that today's 60-year-olds are physically fit enough to continue flying, and their experience shouldn't be taken out of the cockpit.

The new law doesn't come a day too soon for Southwest Airlines Captain Paul Emens, 59, who has spent more than a decade trying to persuade members of Congress to rewrite federal rules that require pilots to retire by their 60th birthdays.

"I have two very close friends who retire tomorrow," Emens said Thursday. "That makes me highly motivated: trying to save the jobs of people I know."

Emens' friends now will be allowed to work for five more years, provided they pass regular medical and piloting exams.

The new law doesn't allow pilots who've already turned 60 to reclaim their jobs or seniority, the all-important airline pecking order that establishes work assignments and compensation.

Pilots who've already retired would be allowed to resume their careers, provided they return as lowly new hires, assigned as co-pilots on a carrier's smallest aircraft.

"I'd have to go back as a junior first officer on a [Boeing] 737, which I haven't flown in 18 or 20 years," said Marty Noonan, a retired Continental pilot, who opted instead to head overseas to fly brand-new Boeing 777s for India's Jet Airways.

The president's action ends a dizzying week for proponents of the new pilot-retirement rules, which had stalled in Congress for months as part of a larger funding bill Bush had vowed to veto.

But once the pilot legislation was spun out as a separate bill, it sped through Congress. The House of Representatives passed it by a vote of 390-0 Tuesday, while the Senate unanimously approved identical language Wednesday evening.

It ends a debate that began in the late 1950s, when the federal government first mandated that pilots retire by age 60. Emens says his father, a captain for Pan Am, fought unsuccessfully to block its passage, contending it was age discrimination.

But the rhetoric has been especially heated this decade as an aviation downturn stalled promotions for younger pilots and upended retirement plans for those at the end of their careers.

The new law gives pilots who've lost much of their pensions to airline bankruptcies five more years to recapture lost income and will help airlines deal with a growing shortage of pilots, advocates say.

Older pilots who worked for carriers that scrapped their employee pension plans, such as United Airlines or US Airways, were hurt by the age 60 rule because the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the quasi-government agency that assumed control of the pension plans, has a rule that cuts retirement benefits for those who leave the workforce before age 65.

Kit Darby, a 23-year veteran of Chicago-based United Airlines, estimates he lost three-quarters of his retirement income and about $1 million in pay because he was forced to retire when he turned 60 in May.

"It's pretty tough to swallow, and it's totally arbitrary," he said.

But extending the working lives of older pilots could have financial consequences for their younger peers, especially those who've been unable to move into larger aircraft and higher-paying jobs during a recent slump as airlines shrank their aircraft fleets and canceled orders for new planes.

Darby, who's also an Atlanta-based consultant specializing in pilot hiring, estimates that about half of the roughly 3,000 airline pilots who turn 60 each year will remain in the workforce.

"It means five years of stagnation for those who expected to move on when older people retired," notes aviation consultant Robert Mann.

Others worry safety may be compromised since pilots in their 60s may find it tougher to battle fatigue or rebound from jet lag than younger colleagues.

"The reality is no one knows what would happen with large number of 65-year-old pilots in the cockpits of modern commercial airlines operating in today's demanding environment," wrote Captain Lloyd Hill, president of the Allied Pilots Association, in a letter urging Bush to veto the bill. His union, which represents pilots at American Airlines, opposed changing the retirement age.

However, both the FAA and international regulators have dismissed safety issues, determining there's no statistical proof older pilots pose a greater risk than younger, less-experienced peers.

"There's no safety issue; there never has been," said Denny Holman, 57, who's a Boeing 777 captain for United Airlines and an advocate of later retirement. "I take two physicals a year. Every nine months, I go back to our training center and take check rides. At any point, an air carrier inspector can jump on my airplane and observe me flying."

The move to rewrite pilot retirement rules gained momentum in November 2006, when the U.S. government first allowed overseas carriers to fly into the U.S. with pilots over the age of 60 at the controls. This created a politically untenable situation, since foreign pilots or Americans flying for international carriers were granted a right denied to pilots flying for U.S. airlines.

Citing that discrepancy, both the Federal Aviation Administration and the nation's largest pilots union, the Air Line Pilots Association, eventually supported changing the retirement age. But with FAA officials warning it could take years to rewrite the regulations already on the books, activists such as Emens turned to Congress for relief.

"I know these guys who had to retire, I know their families are in trouble," Emens said, explaining why he took on this cause. "And I think about it night and day. My only negative is that we couldn't get it done sooner and save the careers of pilots who lost their jobs. That's the only negative."

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jjohnsson @tribune.com

 

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