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"Pilots fighting age-60 rule"



Monday, March 28, 2005

Pilots fighting age-60 rule 
Airlines join to support bid to change retirement
By Suzanne Marta
The Dallas (TX) Morning News


DALLAS - Across about every industry, U.S. workers are pushing retirement
later, staying in their jobs to keep busy or earn needed income to fund
longer lives.

For the nation's airline pilots, careers have a hard stop: age 60.

Now, some pilots and airlines are challenging the federal rule that was
drafted for safety reasons in 1959, putting the so-called age-60 rule to the
test. advertisement  

Southwest Airlines Co. is filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a
group of 12 pilots that has asked the Supreme Court to review its request
for an exemption to the rule.

"We think there are other measures to better gauge a pilot's continued
ability to fly than age," Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart said.

Another low-cost carrier, JetBlue Airways Corp., has long supported
re-evaluating the age 60 rule and is considering writing a similar brief.

"We strongly believe that the law needs to change," said Todd Burke, a
JetBlue spokesman.

The pilot group, sponsored by the Professional Pilots Federation, cites
studies showing that older fliers can be capable pilots. It also points out
that major carriers overseas allow pilots to fly after they turn 60.

"If a man can pass all their tests at 59 years and 364 days, why should we
think he suddenly goes brain-dead at 60?" asked Bert Yetman, federation
president.

Many pilots point to more precarious pensions at traditional carriers that
threaten much of their retirement income.

Two bills in Congress would raise the retirement age for pilots to 65.
Similar legislation has been proposed in the past, but it fizzled in
committee.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, which oversees aviation
issues for the United Nations, is considering whether to support allowing
pilots in command to fly until age 65, if the other pilot onboard is younger
than 60.

In the United States, the discussion comes as more employers realize that
they inevitably will have to rely more on older workers because of an
enormous demographic shift.

By 2012, 23.6 percent of people ages 65 to 74 are expected to be in the
workforce, up from 20.4 percent from 2002, according to data from the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data were analyzed by the Employment Policy
Foundation, a research group.

For workers ages 55 to 64, the participation in the workforce is expected to
grow to 65.1 percent, from 61.9 percent.

"People are healthier at 60 today than they were 40 years ago," said
Janemarie Mulvey, chief economist at the Employment Policy Foundation. "The
boomers aren't thinking about sitting on the front porch."

Still, for many, raising pilot retirement beyond 60 brings the risk of
jeopardizing passenger safety.

"These are not desk jobs we're talking about," said Gregg Overman, a
spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American
Airlines Inc.'s 13,500 pilots. He pointed to other high-stress jobs with
age-based retirement dates, such as air traffic controllers and
firefighters.

"Most senior pilots are flying long-haul and international routes," Overman
said. "To us, it's just not worth the risk."

Federal Aviation Administration officials say they're open to seeing new
research.

However, "we have not seen any medical or other evidence that leads us to
consider a change in the rule at this time," said Paul Turk, FAA spokesman.

The Air Line Pilots Association International, the largest pilots' union
with 64,000 members, is reconsidering its 25-year support of the age-60 rule
in part because of the industry's economic struggles.

US Airways Corp. has turned its pensions over to the Pension Benefit
Guaranty Corp., the agency that assumes weak or terminated plans. United
Airlines Inc. management also has said it hopes to terminate all pension
plans for its employees.

The union, which says it has supported the rule for safety reasons, is
evaluating research about pilot performance after age 60 and is set to
solicit member feedback in a survey next month.

"A lot of things have changed in 25 years," said John Mazor, an ALPA union
spokesman. "There are pilots who are saying when I hit 60, I may not be
where I need to be financially and I may need a couple of more years to
work."

Yetman, a former Southwest pilot who now ferries empty planes for extra
income, noted that many people don't want to face penalties for tapping
Social Security benefits before age 65.

Analysts cautioned that any change to the rule won't come easily.

"There's way too many emotions involved," said Mike Boyd, an aviation
consultant based in Evergreen, Colo. "You'd have to prove that it would be
better if they worked after 60, and no one is going to be able to prove
that."


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