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"House votes to raise pilot retirement to 65"

Friday, September 21, 2007

House votes to raise pilot retirement to 65 
By Julie Johnsson
The Chicago (IL) Tribune 

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

The proposal is part of a sweeping bill that would authorize $68 billion for
the Federal Aviation Administration over the next four years, funding that
would be used to revamp the nation's aging air-traffic-control system and
overhaul airports.

A provision that would raise pilots' retirement age is also in the FAA
reauthorization bill pending before the U.S. Senate.

However, the measure is a long ways from becoming law.

The new retirement age could be stripped out of the bills as they wind
through the lawmaking process. And the White House has threatened for other
reasons to veto the version that the House approved 267-151. That vote total
is less than the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

"We're over another hurdle and on to the next hurdle," said Paul Emens, 59,
a Southwest Airlines captain who is chairman of Airline Pilots Against Age
Discrimination, a group that advocates changing the retirement age for

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, the standard adopted by the
authority that sets rules for international aviation.

"It's time to close the book on age 60," former FAA Administrator Marion
Blakey said in a Jan. 30 speech. "The retirement age for pilots needs to be
raised." Blakey stepped down from her post last week.

The issue has deeply divided pilots and their unions. It pits younger pilots
eager to gain the seniority that brings better pay and choice assignments
against older pilots who, in many cases, want to keep working to offset
retirement benefits that were scuttled by carriers in bankruptcy.

Also fighting the measure are pilots reaching retirement age at carriers
like American Airlines, which avoided bankruptcy and preserved its employees
pensions. Those counting on retiring at age 60 don't want to see their
benefits reduced.

Others contend that pilots in their 60s aren't able to rebound from jet lag
and fatigue as easily as younger colleagues.

"For us, it's a no-brainer," said Gregg Overman, spokesman for the Allied
Pilots Association, an independent union that represents American Airline
pilots. "As far as we're concerned, age 60 should continue to serve as a
highly effective safety regulation."

Since November 2006, federal authorities have allowed pilots up to the age
of 65 at foreign carriers to fly aircraft in the U.S., even though pilots at
domestic airlines are prohibited from doing so.

That inconsistency is infuriating to pilots who wish to extend their careers
and spurred a raft of legislation in Congress. At least five bills
introduced in the House or Senate this session have provisions that would
raise pilots' retirement age to the international standard.

The FAA reauthorization bills present the best hope of a legislative
solution to pilots seeking relief from current retirement rules, insiders

But it could take months for Congress and the White House to agree on
compromise language. In that time, as many as 600 pilots will be forced to
retire, said Emens, who's lobbying the House to pass the new retirement age
as a stand-alone provision.

"We're fighting for the careers of people who are at risk," he said.

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