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"Faster planes, more flights: Concerns of 1950s led to pilot age rule"



Sunday, July 29, 2007

Faster planes, more flights: Concerns of 1950s led to rule
By STEPHEN RASSENFOSS
The Houston (TX) Chronicle 


The advent of big passenger jets coincided with the enactment of the rule
requiring pilots to retire at age 60.

When the Federal Aviation Administration announced the age 60 rule in
December 1959, its news release emphasized the safety concerns of having
faster and bigger planes piloted by those past 60.

"The FAA believes that because of the progressive deterioration of both
physiological and psychological functions which normally occur with age,
allowing pilots in this age group to remain in command of aircraft carrying
up to 165 passengers at speeds of 550 miles per hour would be a hazard to
safety in air carrier operations."

This regulation's history can be found on a site called Age60rule.com.
Retired pilot Samuel Woolsey, who said he has avoided lobbying on this issue
because he'd like to offer an objective history, created it.

The site shows that in the 1950s there were safety concerns as more large
passenger planes took to the skies.

There was no mandatory retirement rule then, but Woolsey noted that there
were long-standing disputes between airlines, which pushed for retirement at
age 60 for pilots, and unions, which opposed it.

The age 60 rule was put in at the end of a decade of major changes in
airline regulation, which included creating the FAA and a major upgrade of
the air traffic control system. The mandatory retirement rule was put in at
a time when the airline industry was training pilots for the first
generation of passenger jets.

Woolsey, who began flying in 1964, noted that training was an extremely
expensive proposition before simulators. Pilots had to learn by flying those
pricey new jets. It cost less for airlines to train younger pilots who'd be
with the carrier for a while and preferably had experience flying military
jets.

In 1959, an FAA committee made up of military, airline and medical experts
approved the age 60 rule.

A report by the committee also recommended that pilots 55 or older not be
allowed to train on passenger jets. It noted that the time needed for older
pilots to make the transition was somewhat longer, and "while this by itself
did not show older pilots were unsafe," it suggested "learning new tasks by
older people is somewhat more difficult."

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