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Old 10-22-2007, 03:33 PM   #8
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House Votes to Raise U.S. Airline Pilot Retirement Age to 65

U.S. airline pilots fighting to keep flying into their 60s won a key victory in mid-September when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to raise the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots from age 60 to 65.

The language is part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007, the House of Representatives plan for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding. The sweeping proposal would authorize $68 billion for the U.S. aviation agency over the next four years.

A provision that would raise the mandatory pilot retirement age is also in the FAA reauthorization bill pending before the U.S. Senate, and differences between the two FAA spending measures, including specific language regarding pilot retirement, will have to be ironed out in a conference committee.

It's also possible that a new pilot retirement age rule will not appear in the final legislation. But observers believe a decade of lobbying by the banned pilots and their congressional backers could finally bear fruit. The FAA reauthorization bills present the best hope of a legislative solution to pilots seeking relief from current retirement rules.

After decades supporting a rule requiring commercial airline pilots to retire by their 60th birthday, the FAA earlier this year signaled that it now supports raising the retirement age to 65, matching a new International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard.

"It's time to close the book on age 60," former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in a Jan. 30, 2007 speech. "The retirement age for pilots needs to be raised. A pilot's experience counts. It's an added margin of safety. Foreign airlines have demonstrated that experienced pilots in good health can fly beyond age 60 without compromising safety."

On September 27, 2006, Blakey established a group of airline, labor and medical experts to recommend whether the United States should adopt the new ICAO standard and determine what actions would be necessary if the FAA were to change its rule.

The Age 60 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) did not reach a consensus recommendation but did provide detailed insight and analysis that will be helpful as the FAA develops a rule.

Since 1959, the FAA has required that all U.S. pilots stop flying commercial airplanes at age 60. In November 2006, ICAO, the United Nations' aviation organization, increased the upper age limit for pilots to age 65, provided that the other pilot is under age 60.

But Blakey stepped down from her post to head the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) with no rule change in place. The FAA says a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is required before any final action is taken. The FAA plans to have an NPRM out by the end of calendar year 2007. But industry and the public will then have the opportunity to comment, making it an 18-month, two- year or possibly longer process.

The issue has deeply divided pilots and their unions. It pits younger pilots eager to gain seniority and older pilots who feel fit to fly and need the money.

The Air Line Pilots Association's (ALPA) long-held position on age 60 was that "the rule is a well-established safety regulation...The justification for the rule is not now and never has been to enhance the careers of pilots who want to move up the seniority list faster. (The age 60 rule) should not be changed for the sake of those who want to continue to fly longer."

But in May of this year ALPA set a new course on the age 60 debate, voting by an overwhelming 80 percent margin to end the union's longstanding support of the age 60 mandatory retirement age for airline pilots.

In the face of concerted efforts to change the rule in Congress and the FAA, the ALPA Executive Board directed that union resources be committed to protecting pilot interests by exerting ALPA's influence in any rule change.

ALPA President Capt. John Prater said "ALPA pilots will be fully engaged in shaping any rule change since any legislative or regulatory change needs to address ALPA's priorities."

ALPA supports legislative language that prevents retroactive application of a change to the age 60 rule. The pilots union opposes any additional age- related diagnostic medical testing and any attempt by the FAA to obtain greater access to pilot medical records. ALPA supports a recommendation to require a 1st Class Medical certification every six months for pilots over age 60.

In response to the FAA Administrator's announcement, Prater established the ALPA Age 60 Blue Ribbon Panel "to study the long-range effects of potential changes to the FAA Age 60 Rule and to identify issues connected to possible changes to pilot mandatory retirement age."

The Panel presented its findings in the areas of aviation safety; collective bargaining; the cost and structure of heath care, disability, and retirement benefits; pilot training; medical standards; and scheduling rules to the Executive Council at its April 2007 meeting.

The Council recommended to the Executive Board that ALPA modify its policy to enable ALPA to influence legislation and regulatory efforts.

The Senior Pilots Coalition (SPC), which was set up to push for an age 60 rule change, believes raising the retirement age by five years could help ease the current U.S. airline pilot shortage while putting hundreds of experienced pilots back into the cockpit.

Meanwhile, the group is seeking in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals a ruling that would force the FAA to reconsider the its decision not to grant waivers to a group of pilots who were arbitrarily forced to stop flying at the age of 60. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld the age 60 rule.

SPC President Lewis J. Tetlow, a Vietnam War vet and US Airways captain who was forced into retirement when he turned 60 on April 2, 2007, said: "The FAA needs to get out of the age discrimination business and into the business of making sure there are enough pilots out there to keep our airways safe and airlines flying on schedule.

"Today, we have an artificial pilot shortage in America that could be remedied quickly by putting available pilots back on the job. It is clearly in the public's best interest to get these experienced pilots flying again," Tetlow added.

"To date, the FAA has paid only lip service to the notion of ending age discrimination under the "age 60 rule, even though Blakey acknowledged in the January 2007 speech that the time has come to change the age 60 rule. The FAA has proposed a vague timetable for action and has refused to grant individual waivers of exemptions to the rule during the interim," the grounded air carrier pilot stated.

In 2001, there was a move to raise the retirement age for U.S. commercial pilots from 60, to 63. That was a failed compromise to original legislation that would have increased the mandatory retirement age to 65. The proposed legislation would have required affected pilots to undergo additional medical testing.

[Copyright 2006 Access Intelligence, LLC. All rights reserved.]
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