New Pilot Retirement Age Signed into Law

December 18, 2007 ( - President Bush has signed into law a measure raising the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 60 to 65.

The Chicago Tribune reports the House of Representatives passed the measure by a vote of 390-0 last week (See  House OKs Pilot Retirement Age Hike ), and the Senate unanimously approved identical language a day later. Pilots who agree with the new retirement age rule say the new law reflects the reality that today’s 60-year-olds are physically fit enough to continue flying, and their experience should not be taken out of the cockpit, the news report said.

Advocates of the bill point out that it gives pilots who may have lost much of their pensions to airline bankruptcies five more years to accumulate benefits. Older pilots who worked for carriers that scrapped their employee pension plans were hurt by the age 60 rule because the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which assumed control of the pension plans, treats those as early retirements (pre-age 65), and reduces the promised benefit accordingly.

The measure will also help airlines deal with a growing shortage of pilots.

Opponents of the bill argued safety could be compromised since pilots in their 60s may find it tougher to battle fatigue or rebound from jet lag than younger pilots. 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, the news report said.

A press release says H.R. 4343 – the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act of 2007:

  • Requires the FAA to sunset the current age 60 rule and raises airline pilot retirement age to 65 immediately upon the President’s signature,
  • Requires one pilot under 60 if one is over 60 for international flights, but not for domestic flights
  • Allows pilots over 60 to be employed as new hires without credit for prior seniority or benefits prior to the date of rehire – pilots over 60 can return to previous positions with seniority and benefits if they are still employed as a flight deck officer,
  • Contains liability protection for airlines and unions from any employment-related lawsuits that might arise from implementation,
  • Permits legacy carriers and their unions to work out any inconsistencies in their pension plans that might arise from the new age,
  • Includes safety provisions that would require all first officers over 60 to have a first class medical and may require some first officers over the age of 60 to have an additional line check or simulator check, and
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to do a study on the safety impact of the new age limit within 24 months.