Debunking the Myths About Raising the Pilot Retirement Age

There has been a lot of talk about how a change in the mandatory retirement age of airline pilots from 65 to 67 will affect the U.S. airline industry. Here are some of the common myths and the truth behind the claims.


Myth: Raising the pilot retirement age to 67 will provide immediate relief.

Fact: When a pilot reaches age 65, in accordance with standards issued International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is a specialized unit of the United Nations, that pilot may not fly international routes or through the territorial airspace of any states that observe the ICAO age standard without specific authorization. This means that a pilot at age 65 will likely only be able to fly U.S. domestic routes. While some pilots may be able to fly domestic routes on the same aircraft they flew internationally, these routes are very limited.  Most others will likely be bumped down to smaller aircraft, requiring retraining and requalification. The required retraining/requalification cycle is expected to take 3-5 full months in most situations. Additionally, these over-65 pilots will most likely bump younger pilots from the training cycle, causing a cascading effect and ultimately making fewer pilots trained and available overall for the aviation system in the U.S., increasing delays and costs for both airlines and passengers.


Myth: There are no added risks to allowing pilots to fly past age 65.

Fact: There are no scientific or safety studies demonstrating this assertion. Unilaterally raising the airline pilot retirement age from 65 to 67, without scientific study or safety research, would introduce more risk, or at a minimum a new and unknown risk, into our aviation system, likely accompanied by disruption to airline operations, additional flight delays and cancellations, and increased ticket prices for passengers. 


A study conducted by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in 2019 concluded the retirement age should not be increased beyond age 65.  Data-driven risk mitigation is at the core of modern aviation safety and moving forward on a regulatory or legislative change without data to support the change introduces new, unknown, and unnecessary risks to passengers, cargo, and crew. 

Myth: Pilots can immediately move to domestic routes with little or no retraining.

Fact: An international widebody pilot may be able to continue flying the limited domestic routes available on the same equipment. However, in a large majority of cases, domestic routes are operated by smaller aircraft. If a pilot has upgraded from a smaller aircraft within the past four months, they could need as little as a week to retrain. However, in a most cases, the over-65 international widebody pilots will have to enter into a 3-5 month training cycle to recertify on smaller aircraft flown on domestic U.S. routes, which would lead to a negative cascading effect on training as younger pilots will be displaced or delayed in their required training.


Myth: If the retirement age is raised to 67, more pilots will be available to fly immediately.

Fact: Initially, it is foreseeable that less pilots will be available to fly immediately. Pilot bidding is based on seniority, and pilots age 65-67, who are primarily widebody captains are guaranteed by contract to bid on those flights. It is extremely likely that these over 65 pilots will bid on flights they are unable to perform. Additionally, pilots at some airlines may be paid for those flights even though they will not operate them. Further, pilot utilization is already quite low at age 64, with many pilots (approximately 40 percent at network carriers) on some form of disability leave or using accrued sick and vacation balances to not perform flying. It is likely that those numbers increase, and the actual older utilization of pilots is quite low. Eventually as grievance proceedings and litigation are eventually settled over-65 pilots will likely require retraining to fly smaller aircraft used on domestic routes, displacing younger pilots currently flying those aircraft who will also foreseeably need additional training because of displacement and delaying the training of pilots who would normally be in line for upgrade training. If a pilot is awaiting training and has not made three takeoffs and landings either in real-world operations or in a training simulator environment recently, that pilot will not be available to fly until they have completed a recertification. This is the case irrespective of the age of the pilot.


Myth: ALPA had no issue with raising to 65, why 67?

Fact: In 2007, the FAA raised the pilot upper age limit age to 65 to align with ICAO standards, which were already at 65. The ICAO standard is still set at 65, which means the two situations are not comparable. Because of a lack of scientific or safety studies addressing the potential use of over age 65 pilots in international air carrier operations any consideration of raising the upper age limit for pilots at ICAO is very likely years away, if at all.  



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