CAPTAIN DUANE E. WOERTH
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL
THE AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE
UNITED STATES SENATE
THE FAA AGE 60 RULE
JULY 19, 2005
Good morning. My name is Duane Woerth and I am the President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. Our union, the largest pilot union in the world, represents more than 64,000 airline pilots at 41 carriers. It is an honor to be before the committee today to address the FAA Age 60 Rule.
The federal regulation that restricts airline pilots from flying as captains and first officers in Part 121 operations is one of the most historically contentious issues in the pilot community. For every strongly held opinion that this rule must be changed, there is an equally strong opinion that it remain the same. As many of you already know, our Association recently completed the most comprehensive information campaign and member survey that our union has ever conducted on a single issue. The results of that survey were presented to the leaders of our 41 pilot groups, known as our Executive Board, for discussion.
Their discussion led to a unanimous vote to accept the reported results. No matter their personal views on the issue, or the views within their own pilot communities, the ALPA Executive Board agreed that the information campaign had been exhaustive and balanced, that the members understood the issues at stake, and that the survey results were clear and accurate. While the survey confirmed that our membership is split on this issue, a clear majority did manifest itself. Therefore, the Air Line Pilots Association remains opposed to changing the Age 60 Rule.
So what exactly did our pilots tell us? Let me share just a few statistical nuggets gleaned from the survey, which had less than 1 percent margin of error:
When asked in a straight-forward yes or no format, 56% of ALPA pilots oppose changing the rule. 42% want it to change.
When we asked pilots specifically about changing the rule to Age 65, support for maintaining the current rule rose to 58% and support for change dropped to 39%.
When asked about their support for additional operational or medical requirements should the rule be changed, results indicate that opposition to a rule change could grow into the low-to-mid-60% range. Only 29% support additional medical exams. A mere 23% support more line or simulator checks, and only 22% support additional operational restrictions should the Age 60 regulation 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.
After all our pilots have been through--terrorism, bankruptcy, furloughs, pay cuts, work rule changes--a majority still believes that this rule works. The irony is that 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 paycuts 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.
In my formal testimony I have included a litany of references to medical studies, court decisions, and previous Congressional actions to build a solid case for keeping the rule. I will not elaborate on them here, but will instead re-state the conclusion they will lead you to: 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.
Furthermore, 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.
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.
Nonetheless, some air carriers want to increase pilot flight and duty limitations. At least one carrier which advocates changing the Age 60 Rule wants its pilots to fly from the east coast to the west coast and back in one duty period. Current safety rules would have to be waived to permit this. Airline managements who advocate changing the Age 60 Rule should put all of their cards on the table as to all of the other rules they wish to change that could decrease the margins of safety.
No matter what this committee or the full Senate may decide to do with the Age 60 Rule, the current flight and duty time rules affecting pilot fatigue need to be enhanced not weakened. Mr. Chairman, I believe this issue is one that this committee should tackle before it gets even worse.
There are some who cherry pick the facts and point to several European nations that have carved out exceptions to the ICAO Age 60 standard. The fact remains that most retirement ages in Europe are governed by contractual language between airlines and pilot unions. The regulatory standard in France and Italy remains at 60. At Dutch airline KLM, pilots have negotiated a retirement age of 56, and at British Airways that age is 55.
But like everything else in Europe, flux, confusion, uncertainty and national pride are making it nearly impossible for the EU to come up with one position on pilot retirement. If they ever get their act together, we can come back and compare their system to ours, but there really is nothing to compare it to now.
You have invited me here today to offer the pilot professionís perspective on the Age 60 Rule. ALPA has done what any transparent, representative organization should do when faced with a controversial issue. We learned about it, we talked about it, and we asked our members--the core of this fine profession--what they believe. The results are in, and I encourage the committee to consider them as they debate this safety regulationís future.
Thank you for this opportunity. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.