Reported by Alexandra Skores for The Dallas Morning News.
Pilots and flight attendant unions are sounding alarms at an attempt in Congress to raise the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots by two years to 67.
The Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, which reauthorizes funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and aviation safety and infrastructure programs for the next five years, includes an amendment that would raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67. House bill 3935 was approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 14 after a House subcommittee tacked on the amendment to alter the age commercial airline pilots have to step down.
The Regional Airline Association is supportive of the House bill, stating the age change is “modest” and allows for the retention of more experienced captains, who can in turn fly alongside and mentor new first officers, to stabilize attrition. Concerns have been rising over the crippling shortage of pilots that has accumulated over the last several decades.
The Allied Pilots Association, the union representing American Airlines’ 15,000 pilots, vocalized its opposition to the bill, citing safety issues and health. In 2023, 712 American pilots will reach retirement age. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association anticipates 85 pilots will retire in 2023.
“Safety considerations drove the establishment of the current international standard of age 65 mandatory retirement, and raising the pilot retirement age would introduce additional risk into commercial aviation,” said Capt. Ed Sicher, the Allied Pilots Association’s president. “Health concerns such as cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease and diabetes become more prevalent as we age — something that has been studied extensively and demonstrated by American Airlines’ own data.”
Sicher said one in three pilots near age 65 on the union’s seniority list is on long-term sick or disability.
The rule also faces opposition from within unions from pilots that would have to wait longer to reach seniority levels to advance to captain, fly bigger jets and have the first choice of schedules.
The Air Line Pilots Association International, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO and Transport Workers Union of America released a joint statement stating the change would not increase the number of pilots and instead “exacerbate operational and scheduling complexity.” Under the new rules, pilots over age 65 would be limited to flying domestic routes.
“The International Civil Aviation Organization limits pilots to age 65 for any international flying,” the statement read. “Therefore, senior pilots on international routes would have to return to domestic-only flying. This would require retraining on different equipment and would bump less-senior pilots to different aircraft or flight deck positions. This will have unintended consequences on airline operations that will complicate the return to travel post-COVID resulting in more delays and cancellations. It would also introduce unnecessary risk to the system.”
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