Revisiting the Age 60 Mandatory Retirement Rule

Air Line Pilot, November/December 2004, p.28

The FAA rule that prevents U.S. airline pilots from flying in Part 121 operations past age 60 has long prompted fervent discussion among ALPA members. But the recent economic difficulties that many carriers have experienced and the resulting industrywide pilot furloughs have brought the discussions to a new level of intensity.

With a number of airlines already obtaining long-term concessions from employees and others on the verge of such agreements, many airline pilots risk losing not only their jobs but substantial retirement benefits as well. With diminished earnings and retirement funds, and a gap between mandatory retirement age and the age at which an airline pilot becomes eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits, more pilots fear that they may be forced to seek work outside their profession beyond age 60.

ALPA’s Executive Board at its September meeting passed a resolution proposed by the Midwest Airlines Master Executive Council directing ALPA’s President to undertake a campaign to educate airline pilots about the FAA rule and the potential ramifications of any changes to the rule. As a part of that mission, the Executive Board also instructed the President to poll the Association’s U.S. members after the education campaign about mandatory retirement age issues.

"We want to know whether our members are in favor of changing or maintaining ALPA’s current policy regarding Age 60," says ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth. "Our policy, based on direction from our members, will dictate how we will approach and address the FAA on these issues."

The Association launched the education program with a presentation to the ALPA Board of Directors during its October meeting in Hollywood, Fla. Board members heard from a number of experts and ALPA staff who spoke on the rule’s history and the possible implications of an increase in the retirement age, specifically discussing the effect on medical certification standards, retirement benefits, career earnings, and safety.

At the same time, the Association began publishing In Focus, a newsletter created to support the education initiative and address issues related to Age 60. The newsletter went out to all of ALPA’s U.S. members, who will continue to receive the publication throughout the duration of the campaign.

In Focus and additional Age 60 materials are also posted on ALPA’s members-only website,

The campaign is expected to last about 6 months. ALPA will conduct a poll of the members regarding mandatory retirement age issues in late February or early March 2005. ALPA’s President will report the findings to the May 2005 Executive Board.

If ALPA’s members favor a change to the Age 60 rule, an aggressive lobbying effort would likely be needed, because the rule can be modified only through a change in regulation directed by the FAA administrator, or through congressional action.

"Even if a majority of our members votes to change ALPA policy regarding Age 60, two factors must be remembered," says Capt. Woerth. "First, a change in ALPA’s policy does not automatically change federal regulations. Second, the FAA defines the Age 60 rule as a safety rule and therefore would not agree to change it unless the change provides for an equivalent level of safety, and that could require changes in other areas such as medical certification standards. We want our members to fully understand what is at stake before we pursue any particular policy initiative."

The mandatory retirement rule, which pertains to pilots operating under Part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, was first implemented in 1960. The FAA created the rule for reasons of safety, arguing that physical and mental abilities decline with age and that no tests existed then that would reliably distinguish between pilots who could not fly safely and those who could. At that time and for two decades thereafter, ALPA opposed the policy, suggesting that retirement should be based on a pilot’s actual physical and mental condition, not on an arbitrary age. At the same time, ALPA negotiators worked to help pilots adapt to the reality of age 60 retirement, and by 1980, the ALPA Board of Directors voted to support the rule.

ALPA members may read more about this important issue in Air Line Pilot throughout the coming months. Again, to learn more about Age 60, visit and click on In Focus: The FAA Age 60 Rule, which has links to additional materials about Age 60.

If you have specific questions or comments about the Age 60 rule, please send an e-mail message to