Why ALPA Opposes Extending U.S. Pilot Retirement Age

Global flying standards are set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has determined that the mandatory airline pilot retirement age for multicrew operations should be 65. Extending this age limit in the United States—without any analysis, validation, studies, or research on its impact, as was conducted years before the current retirement age was set by ICAO—would put the U.S. in conflict with ICAO and result in older airline pilots being barred from operating international flights. Compelled to domestic-only operations, these senior pilots would likely bottleneck an airline’s training capacity as they retrain and requalify on new aircraft. A ripple effect would ensue as less-senior pilots would be bumped from their aircraft, adding to a carrier’s training demands and resulting in reduced pilot utilization and flying as the airline attempts to recover.

In addition,

  • Portions of existing pilot labor contracts, with provisions based on the assumption that members retire at age 65, would be called into question. Following potentially years of contractual grievances and costly litigation proceedings, unions and management could be faced with prematurely reopening or relitigating existing agreements.
  • While regional airlines have been strong proponents of extending pilot retirement age, most pilots who fly for these carriers typically transition to more-lucrative jobs at mainline, all-cargo, and low-cost carriers long before they reach age 65. Therefore, the pool of available pilots for these airlines wouldn’t meaningfully increase.
  • According to FAA and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are currently more certificated airline pilots than there are available positions. As no recent U.S. study has evaluated the impact of a retirement age extension, the proposed change (in addition to being in conflict with global air transportation policy) would be arbitrary and unsupported by examination and commentary associated with normal FAA rulemaking procedures.
  • A change to the pilot retirement age wouldn’t increase service to small communities, as this kind of decision is market driven.

Looking Back at the Evolution of the Mandatory Retirement Rule

The following is a brief overview of significant events in the evolution of the FAA’s mandatory retirement rule for airline pilots.

1959 - The FAA imposed a mandatory retirement age of 60 for airline pilots.

1960 - The rule became effective on March 15, 1960.

1980 - After 20 years of unsuccessful challenges to the age 60 rule, ALPA’s Board of Directors reversed its position and officially endorsed the age 60 retirement requirement for all flightdeck crewmembers.

2007 - After the International Civil Aviation Organization increased the age to 65 and after years of debate and pressure from some pilot groups that argued that the retirement age of 60 was arbitrary, Congress passed legislation that raised the mandatory retirement age to 65 and included safety mitigations to balance the risk with the increasing age.

2019 - A study contracted by the European Aviation Safety Agency found an increased health risk and a decline in cognitive skills with an increase in age.

2022 - ALPA’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to support the current pilot retirement age of 65.

2022 - U.S. lawmakers began to seriously consider raising the retirement age once again, this time to 67. Analysis of safety data shows an elevated fatal accident rate for FAR Part 135 operations for pilots over the age of 65.

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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