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"FAA says it will scrap rule forcing pilots to retire at 60"

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

FAA says it will scrap rule forcing pilots to retire at 60 
By Alan Levin

WASHINGTON - Federal aviation regulators announced Tuesday that they intend
to ease the requirement that airline pilots retire when they reach age 60.

The proposal faces possible opposition and could take years to put in place.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to let pilots fly until 65,
provided one of the two cockpit crewmembers on every flight is under 60. The
proposal would bring U.S. standards in line with regulations adopted last
year by other nations, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said.

"It's time to close the book on age 60," Blakey said in a speech before the
National Press Club. "The retirement age for airline pilots needs to be

The FAA examined safety data and could find no evidence that pilots who
reach 60 are any less safe than younger pilots, Blakey said. Several hundred
pilots older than 60 fly corporate jets, where no such restrictions exist,
she said. 

Blakey said people live far longer and healthier than when the rule was
enacted in 1960. Airline pilots receive medical exams twice a year and are
checked for proficiency in simulators at least once a year. 

Opponents of the measure argue that safety data cited by Blakey is
inadequate. Some industry officials and medical experts on an FAA advisory
panel filed a report last year calling for a formal risk analysis of older
pilots before enacting changes. 

The measure has split pilots and airlines. It was advocated by some pilot
groups, who say that it is discriminatory to force retirements at 60. The
proposal gained momentum in recent years as airline financial problems
devastated many pilots' pensions. 

However, the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilots union with
50,000 members, has long opposed a change in the rule on safety grounds.
ALPA President John Prater said recently that he would convene groups at the
union to study the issue. 

Meanwhile, the Air Transport Association, the trade group for large
airlines, has yet to take a stand on the issue because some carriers favor
the change while others oppose it. 

The announcement comes 10 days after a 58-year-old Continental Airlines
pilot died of undisclosed causes on a flight from Houston to Puerto
Vallarta, Mexico. The co-pilot landed the jet in McAllen, Texas. Blakey said
the incident did not give her doubts because it illustrates the aviation
system's redundant safety measures. 

Blakey said that it could take up to two years before the proposal becomes
law. She has asked an industry advisory group to first study how to write a
new retirement rule. Advocates of the change reacted with anger at the
lengthy schedule.

Southwest Airlines Capt. Paul Emens, 58, said it was "unacceptable" to take
so long to adopt a rule. Emens estimated that 3,600 to 5,000 airline pilots
would be forced to retire in the next two years. 

Emens' group, Airline Pilots Against Age Discrimination, and the Southwest
Airline Pilots' Association, said they will lobby Congress to mandate
changes sooner. A bill that would move mandatory retirement to 65 has been
introduced this year in the Senate.


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