July 19, 2005
ALPA Supports Current Mandatory Retirement Age for Pilots
WASHINGTON, D.C.---The head of the nation’s largest pilot union today told Congress that it supports the current rule requiring airline pilots to stop flying at 60, and would oppose any attempts to change it.
“This rule should only be changed if we can guarantee--beyond all reasonable doubt--that any change will have a positive effect on air safety,” said Capt. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. Woerth was testifying at hearings by the Senate Aviation Subcommittee on the Age 60 rule (read the testimony).
Woerth noted that “No safety rule operates in a vacuum or is isolated from the rest of the real world operating environment we face in the first years of the 21st Century. Bone-crushing pilot fatigue, and the mental errors it leads to, are still one of the largest threats to aviation safety. Sixteen-hour domestic duty days--even longer with more trans-Pacific international operations--are facts of life for airline pilots. Irregular shifts, all night operations, and significant circadian rhythm challenges all contribute to pilot fatigue.”
|ALPA's president, Capt. Duane Woerth, testifies before the Senate Aviation Subcommittee on Age 60.|
“With all the contractual work rule concessions that have occurred since September 11th, especially at our large legacy airlines, a higher percentage of pilots are flying more hours and working more days with longer duty periods than at any other time in recent history,” he said. The obvious implication is that because aging reduces the body’s ability to combat fatigue, increasing the retirement age for pilots could result in a degradation of safety.
Citing “the most comprehensive information campaign and member survey that our union has ever conducted on a single issue,” Woerth said that a scientifically designed telephone and Web survey conducted earlier this year reaffirmed a majority support among ALPA pilots for maintaining the rule. ALPA’s review of the rule produced “a litany of references to medical studies, court decisions, and previous Congressional actions (that have built) a solid case for keeping the rule.”
In May, 2005, ALPA’s Executive Board, composed of the highest union official at each of ALPA’s 41 airlines, voted unanimously to accept the results of the survey, thereby reaffirming ALPA’s longstanding policy on the rule.
“When asked in a straightforward yes or no format, 56 percent of ALPA pilots oppose changing the rule. 42 percent want it to change,” he said. Questions that presented various options for increasing the retirement age did not significantly alter the results. Questions that presented options for increased testing for the effects of aging suggested even higher levels of opposition to a rule change.
“In a separate survey we conducted earlier in the year on priorities for ALPA, we asked pilots to rank legislative issues in order of importance. At the top of their list were the issues pilots want us to fight strongest for: opposing foreign cabotage; passing pension legislation; restricting foreign ownership; and promoting aviation safety. What was at the bottom of the list? Changing the Age 60 Rule,” Woerth said.
Results of the survey actually ran counter to expectations. “If you had asked me one year ago to predict what I would be saying today, I would have predicted that the majority of ALPA members would have moved to the other side of the line on this one, mostly because of lost pension benefits and deep pay cuts across the board. Please keep in mind that we specifically excluded polling our roughly 5,000 furloughed pilots, who would presumably be the strongest supporters of keeping the rule in place,” Woerth said.
Given the reaffirmation of ALPA’s policy, the Association will continue to oppose any attempts to eliminate the limitation on pilots flying past 60.
To learn more about the FAA Age 60 Rule, click here.
ALPA represents 64,000 airline pilots at 41 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Its website is at www.alpa.org.
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ALPA CONTACTS: John Mazor, Linda Shotwell, (703) 481-4440, firstname.lastname@example.org.