FAA Mulling 65 as New Pilot Retirement Age

December 11, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Federal aviation officials are reportedly crafting a new policy to allow US airline pilots to stay on the job for as many as five years past the current retirement age of 60.

Citing unnamed sources, the Wall Street Journal reported Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey is developing the new position slowly but steadily. However, before spelling it out publicly, she is expected to gauge the willingness of incoming Democratic leaders in Congress to take the lead in advocating such moves. Bills calling for the policy shift failed to pick up enough traction this year, the Journal said. Input from the White House and Department of Transportation could affect the agency’s actions.

If the new retirement policy is actually developed, it will represent an about-face for the FAA’s longstanding policy that pilots must retire at age 60. The Journal report said the FAA’s apparent change of heart is influenced by the current tight market globally for pilots as well as the lack of recent scientific data demonstrating any clear-cut erosion of safety from extending the careers of pilots.

To defuse safety worries, one possible compromise may be to mandate “more-extensive physicals and an increased level of scrutiny” as soon as pilots turn 60, Richard Healing, an aviation consultant and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the Journal.

The report said federal officials have been signaling their intentions in recent months giving the example that, earlier this year, Jim Ballough, director of the FAA’s flight standards office, told an international industry conference in Portland, Oregon , agency officials were “discussing the issue internally” and “looking at our options.”

A spokeswoman for Blakey told the Journal the industry can “expect a decision relatively soon.”

The agency’s emerging support for raising the mandatory retirement age to 65 comes as foreign airlines and regulators are adopting similar changes. If left unchanged, the current rules over the next decade will require thousands of passenger and cargo commercial pilots – some projections total more than 30,0000 aviators – to retire at age 60, regardless of their health, according to industry officials, the Journal reported.

The 60-year age limit was a compromise between unions and airlines in place since the 1950s (See Pension Woes Helps Pilots Retirement Age Initiative Gain Steam ).