CAPTAIN DUANE E. WOERTH
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL
THE AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE
UNITED STATES SENATE
THE FAA AGE 60 RULE
JULY 19, 2005
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Duane Woerth, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). Our union--the largest pilot union in the world--represents more than 64,000 airline pilots at 41 carriers. On behalf of ALPA, I appreciate the invitation to appear before the Committee today to present ALPA’s views on the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots as specified under the FAA regulation commonly known as the “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 among the pilot community. For every strongly held opinion that this rule must be changed, an equally strong opinion holds 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 for discussion to our Executive Board, which is made up of the leaders of our 41 pilot groups.
Their discussion led to a unanimous vote to accept the reported results, leaving our policy on the rule intact. 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 our members understood the issues at stake, and that the survey results were clear and accurate. Their unanimity makes it possible for me to state for the record today that the Air Line Pilots Association opposes changing the Age 60 Rule, as we have since 1980.
Results of the ALPA Age 60 Survey
Since September 2004, when we began this initiative, our members have considered the issue from many angles, weighed the evidence, and expressed their views on the Age 60 Rule candidly and forthrightly. The assessment of ALPA members’ views is based on two studies with identical questionnaires. The first was a telephone poll conducted from March 30 through April 4. The second was a web-based survey conducted from April 4 through April 29, 2005. Taken together, the telephone poll data and the two sets of demographically stratified web survey data provide extremely accurate results, with a raw sample margin of error of less than 1% and less than 0.5% with sample stratification. We specifically excluded polling our roughly 5,000 furloughed pilots, who would presumably be the strongest supporters of keeping the rule in place.
The results of the survey show that a majority of ALPA pilots favor maintaining the Age 60 Rule. Consider the following statistics from the survey:
When asked in a straight-forward yes or no format, “Do you favor changing the FAA Age 60 Rule?” 56% of ALPA pilots support maintaining the current 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%.
The more specific we got, the fewer pilots supported change. When given a series of options and asked which they would most support, 54% support the current rule, while only 10% support increasing the age limit to 62, and only 22% support increasing it to 65. Further, fewer than 10% support the option of changing the rule to one that measures physical ability and health on an individual basis, regardless of age. And, fewer than 5% support increasing the age limit to higher than age 65 (2%) or lifting the age limit completely (3%).
Several collateral findings indicate that the majority who oppose a change in the Age 60 Rule could grow even larger--into the low-to-mid-60% range or higher--depending on the specifics of any requirements and/or restrictions that might be proposed. We asked pilots whether they support additional operational and/or medical requirements if the rule is changed. Only 29% support additional medical exams, a mere 23% support more line/simulator checks, and only 22% support additional operational restrictions if the age 60 regulation is changed.
These results reflect the pilot profession’s perspective on the Age 60 Rule. Additionally, numerous court decisions, extensive medical studies, and previous Congressional actions have led to the same conclusion: This rule should be changed only if we can guarantee—beyond all reasonable doubt—that any change will have a positive effect on air safety.
Rationale for Maintaining the FAA Age 60 Rule
The Age 60 Rule is based on two fundamental principles of medical science that are indisputable. First, the risks of incapacitation and unacceptable decrements in performance increase with age. Second, medical science has not developed a regimen of reliable tests that can be administered effectively to determine which aging pilots will become incapacitated, or whose performance will decline to an unacceptable level. The issues surrounding the regulation have been studied as thoroughly as any aeromedical matter affecting pilots, and after decades of comprehensive studies and exhaustive review, these two principles are still valid as the underlying basis for the rule.
The FAA, when it reviewed the most advanced cognitive testing technology, known as CogScreen-AE, concluded that that test “cannot sufficiently identify age-related cognitive function deficits that would impact pilot performance and aircraft safety.” On appeal of this decision in Yetman v. Garvey 261 F.3d at 675 (7th Cir. 2001), the Court of Appeals affirmed the FAA’s decision, concluding: “Ultimately, we find that substantial evidence supports the FAA’s finding that CogScreen-AE is not, at this point, an adequate cognitive tool for determining whether an exemption to the Age Sixty Rule is warranted.”
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling declining to hear a group of pilots’ applications for exemption from the FAA Age 60 Rule in Butler v. FAA, cert. denied, 125 S. Ct. 1986 (May 2, 2005).
The Age 60 Rule has also withstood the legal challenge that it constitutes age discrimination. Although the rule does mandate a chronological age for retirement, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that it does not violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). In Professional Pilots Federation (PPF) v. FAA, 118 F.3d at 763 (D.C. Cir. 1997), the court held that, “nothing in the ADEA can plausibly be read to restrict the FAA from making age a criterion for employment when it acts in its capacity as the guarantor of public safety in the air…therefore, we conclude that the ADEA does not limit the authority of the FAA to prescribe a mandatory retirement age for pilots.”
In late 1979, the House of Representatives rejected a proposal to relax the rule, and directed the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study to determine if sufficient medical evidence supported the rule. In August 1981, the National Institute of Aging Review Panel on the Experienced Pilots Study, which was responsible for reviewing the study and submitting a report to Congress, concluded:
“The Panel attaches no special medical significance to age 60 as a mandatory age for retirement of airline pilots. It finds, however, that age-related changes in health and performance influence adversely the ability of increasing numbers of individuals to perform as pilots with the highest level of safety and, consequently, endanger the safety of the aviation system as a whole. Moreover, the Panel could not identify the existence of a medical or performance appraisal system that can single out those pilots who would pose the greatest hazard because of early or impending deterioration in health or performance.”
After the NIA completed its review, the rule was contested in Federal Court and reconsidered by the FAA. In 1989, in response to a directive by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the FAA reviewed the evidence and reaffirmed its support of the rule. In the decision, the FAA’s Director of Flight Standards stated:
“Based upon all of the studies discussed, we conclude that an older pilot’s edge in experience does not offset the undetected physical infirmities associated with the aging process. Notwithstanding that most pilots who are approaching or have passed age 60 report that their health is excellent and they do not experience any physical or cognitive limitations which would prevent them from continuing their flying career, the research of aging indicates that there is often a sharp decline in physical and cognitive performance after age 60. There is substantial scientific evidence which indicates that the greater experience of the pilots who have reached or passed age 60 does not outweigh the increased risk of incapacitation or skill deterioration which accompanies seniority.”
Between 1990 and 1994, the FAA sponsored a four-part study, known as the “Hilton Reports,” to review the Age 60 Rule. The part that received the most attention was a study of accident rates as a function of age, and that part concluded that the FAA could cautiously raise the age limit to 63. However, the FAA found some substantial flaws in the accident study and never adopted its conclusions. The D.C. Circuit upheld the FAA’s decision in PPF v. FAA, 118 F.3d at 769.
Between 2000 and 2003, the FAA, at the request of Congress, sponsored an updated four-part study conducted by the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). The CAMI study claimed that no necessary relationship existed between the accident rate and pilot age, but in 2004 an update to the original CAMI study analyzed the general methodology used in accident studies and concluded that the data are prone to errors and misinterpretations, thus calling into question the results.
Advocates for changing the rule point out that many countries have an upper age limit beyond 60 and a few have no upper age limit at all. Some countries have modified their regulations for licensure purposes as one way to address their pilot staffing needs. However, this is not a need in the United States, where more than 6,000 ALPA pilots are currently furloughed because of the financial state of the airline industry.
Pilots for many of the major airlines in Europe actually retire before the age of 60, some as young as 55. This corresponds with a large percentage of pilots for the major U.S. carriers who actually retire before age 60 for medical or other reasons. Also, regardless of the local regulatory requirement, at most European national carriers, their collective bargaining agreements govern the retirement age, which in most cases is less than 60, and pilots older than 60 are generally limited to the second-in-command position.
These examples substantiate the FAA’s determination that the Age 60 Rule is reasonable and within an acceptable range of risk for commercial air transportation operations and has proven to be an effective safety regulation. The results of the ALPA Age 60 survey reaffirm the Association’s policy in support of the FAA’s position.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude my statement by saying that commercial aviation is the safest form of transport in human history. I am proud of the role that ALPA pilots have played in achieving that reality. We cannot take that reality for granted, however. We must do all we can to defend and preserve our safety record--and resist all attempts to change safety regulations simply to boost profit margins. The Age 60 Rule is a safety regulation and should not be changed or repealed unless and until the FAA--not ALPA or any other pilot organization--is convinced, based on sufficient and conclusive evidence, that such action would not have a negative effect on safety.
Thank you for this opportunity. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.