FAA Chief Releases Pilot Retirement Change Proposal

January 31, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Federal officials plan to formally propose allowing commercial pilots to stay in the cockpit for five more years - a change expected to affect thousands of pilots in years to come.

According to a Wall Street Journal news report, as rumored (See FAA Mulling 65 as New Pilot Retirement Age ), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Marion Blakey has proposed to let older pilots keep flying until they are 65, reversing decades of strong agency support for a retirement at age 60 mandate.

While pilots’ union leaders believe members generally are more willing to embrace the proposal, the unions want to make sure their voices are fully heard by avoiding congressional intervention. In line with that aim, the agency will undertake a detailed rulemaking exercise, according to the news report.

It is unclear how long it might take to implement the change, according to the news report. A hotly contested rulemaking process could stretch for 18 months or longer where. If pilots unions and other groups adopt a conciliatory stance, a fast-tracked rulemaking could be completed more quickly, the report said.

Regulators’ change of heart is a sign that the airline industry expects a tight pilots’ labor market as well as of eroding pilot pensions that are prompting more veterans to move to extend their careers.

Also, recent research on brain functioning could provide ammunition to counter arguments that older pilots would represent a danger to passengers. Recent discoveries of brain functions suggest that for many older people, experience and ingrained patterns of thinking actually can help keep them at the top of their game as pilots, air-traffic controllers and other professions.