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"Many pilots are pushing to rescind the retirement age"



Sunday, July 29, 2007

Many pilots not retiring types
These fliers are pushing Congress to rescind the age 60 retirement rule
By BILL HENSEL JR.
The Houston (TX) Chronicle 

 
Southwest Airlines pilot Paul Emens is fighting to keep his job, along with
the jobs of thousands of his colleagues.

A decade ago, he founded Airline Pilots Against Age Discrimination to try to
change the rule that mandates commercial pilots retire at age 60.

At the time, Emens didn't give much thought to battling both Father Time and
the slow-moving federal bureaucracy. But now, at age 58, he's staring the
age 60 rule right in the face.

"I have one year and 10 months to go, so I try not to count it down," the
longtime pilot said. "I started off on the principle of the thing, and now
it is getting personal."

He and others pushing to end the age 60 rule have more reason for optimism
now, since a change to 65 has been made internationally. But backers of the
bill say doing it through the normal channels at the Federal Aviation
Administration could take two years, so they're pushing Congress to act now.

One argument for passage is that the United States is facing a pilot
shortage, and a change could help in the short term, said Kit Darby of
Atlanta-based Air Inc., which tracks pilot hiring and retirements. The
organization said about 2,200 pilots this year will turn 60 and that total
will rise to about 2,900 a year by 2016 as baby boomers age.

Darby, who flew for United Airlines, was forced to retire on May 22, his
60th birthday.

"It is pretty frustrating," Emens said. "This has been a decade of my life,
and I think we are losing a lot of good people for no good reason."

He's not the only one fighting. Thousands of other pilots are with him,
including Southwest pilot Capt. Bill Martin, who flies regularly through
Houston.

"All we want to do is work," said Martin, who turns 59 next month. "The rest
of the world now works to 65."

The FAA in January proposed to raise the mandatory retirement age for U.S.
commercial pilots from 60 to 65. A committee reporting to the agency said
medical and aging experts agree there is no medical rationale for the rule.

Those flying planes would have to demonstrate they're physically up to the
job, as they do now. All pilots acting as captain must have a medical exam
every six months, while others in the cockpit also have regular physicals.
That would continue if the rule changes.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said the formal rule-making process would
have to be followed.

That process is too time-consuming for pilots like Capt. Carl Kuwitzky. He's
head of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which has been fighting
for years to get the rule changed.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said he expects the legislation he
co-sponsored with a host of others to come up in the House soon and pass.

"For me the real question is: Do you make some arbitrary age limit?" said
McCaul, whose district includes part of Harris County. "You really should be
looking not so much at age, but the ability."

Change of position

The Air Line Pilots Association, which opposed the change for years,
switched its position in May. 

ALPA, which represents most big airlines, including Houston-based
Continental, said it did so because it wanted to be able to exert influence
in how the change was made. ALPA is the world's largest airline pilots union
and represents 60,000 pilots who fly for 41 U.S. and Canadian airlines.

There are disagreements among pilots on this issue. The leaders of the union
representing pilots who fly for the world's largest carrier, Fort
Worth-based American Airlines, say they don't want to see the rule changed.

The 12,000-strong Allied Pilots Association at American doesn't see a need
to fiddle with it, according to its spokesman, Capt. Denis Breslin.

"What APA has always hung its hat on is that the rule has worked flawlessly
for so many years," Breslin said. "There has never been a single health- or
death-related accident."

Unsuccessful challenges

The age 60 rule dates to 1959, as jet passenger travel became popular. 

At the time when the Boeing 707 was just going into service, the FAA press
release announcing the rule said allowing pilots in this age group to remain
in command of the big fast new planes "would be a hazard to safety in air
carriers operations."

The rulehas been challenged several times but never changed.

This time may be different.

One reason is that last fall, the International Civil Aviation Organization,
a United Nations agency billed as the global forum for civil aviation,
adopted a new standard that allows one pilot in the cockpit up to age 65,
provided the other pilot is under 60.

That means older foreign pilots are flying into the United States, but U.S.
pilots who are the same age are prohibited from operating planes here.

Southwest Airlines pilot Joe Gautille says that is wrong.

"My government is discriminating against me, and I am a 30-year Navy
veteran," said Gautille, who lives near Dallas. "I haven't asked a lot of my
government, but I am asking for my job."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agrees with him. That federal
agency is on record saying the rule discriminates.

Pilot skills and health can be assessed accurately on an individual basis
regardless of age, said Naomi Earp, chair of the EEOC, in a letter to the
FAA.

The commission strongly encourages the FAA to lift the age 60 rule, she
said.

Since the FAA's process could take two years, the Southwest pilot union has
joined others in pursuing legislation, which was filed in the House and
Senate earlier this year.

"We are going to lose several hundred pilots in that time frame," Kuwitzky
said. "Only Congress can make law and pursuing legislation is quicker and
more efficient. It will save more jobs and get protections, so that is what
we are doing."

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, is among the supporters of the change. He said he
has pilots of all ages who live in his district, which includes George Bush
Intercontinental Airport.

"Pilots from other nations can fly until they are 65, so the reason for the
rule at 60 no longer exists," Poe said. "If they are fit, they should be
able to work until they are 65."

Capt. Tom Donaldson, chair of the Continental pilot council, said while
there will always be pilots on both sides of the issue, "Continental pilots
recognize the need for ALPA's position."

"It was clear that the age 60 change was going to happen," Donaldson said.
"In polling conducted by the union, the majority of Continental pilots
supported ALPA's position that the union needs to be part of the process to
help protect pilot interests."

Effects on Continental

The effects of a change are especially pertinent to Continental pilots since
they've entered contract negotiations with management, he said. 

Continental deferred comment to the union.

For pilots who will soon reach 60, even if a bill in passed, the language in
it could have a big impact on their future.

ALPA is against making the change retroactive, which would allow those who
recently were forced out as pilots to return to service.

Most seem to agree that would present huge problems, which also is the
feeling of onetime astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson, who was forced to retire
from Southwest last year because he turned 60.

"I'll be the first to acknowledge if you make it retroactive, it would throw
in a monkey wrench for the airlines," Gibson said.

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