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Wed, Jan 30, 2008

Some Pilots Remain Dismayed With Age 65 Law

Provision Bars Retired Pilots From Returning With Seniority

When Congress last year finally got around to addressing the plight of healthy, qualified pilots being forced to retire at age 60, the so-called Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act made it past both Houses and President Bush in just three days. Now, 3,000 older pilots who are still without jobs say the word "fair" has no place in the name of the law.

In a concession to the Air Line Pilots Association, the law was drafted to discourage pilots already forced to retire, but not yet 65, from returning to the airline workforce. While it did not prohibit airlines from hiring them back, it stipulated that they would have to return stripped of their seniority.

Given the drastic cut in wages that would result, and the drop to the bottom of schedule, route and vacation bidding, that made the proposition a non-starter for pilots who in some cases had spent decades working their way to the top of their profession.

A recent report in the Kansas City Star cited the cases of two of the roughly 3,000 pilots facing this situation. Bud Speace of Lenexa, KS has considered a pilot job in Kazakhstan, working a six-weeks-on, two-weeks-off schedule for Air Astana. He was forced into retirement from his job at America West when he hit age 60, and is critical of the union that was only too happy to take his dues for years, then yielded to pressure from younger members hungry for the advancement opportunity his vacant job would represent.

"Unfortunately," he says, "our worst fears came to pass. ALPA threw us under the bus."

Jim Hathcoat of Olathe was forced out of his job at Frontier Airlines. He tells the paper he prefers to stay closer to home, so he’s scouting openings with executive aircraft charters. He commented on the inconsistency between US and international rules as his forced retirement grew near.

"International pilots up to age 65 could fly through US space, but we couldn’t," Hathcoat said. "That didn’t make sense."

Both men are particularly bothered by a clause in the legislation which apparently escaped scrutiny in Congress -- which was anxious to recess for the December holidays when it passed the bill. It bars pilots in their situation from seeking redress in court. Both believe that provision is unconstitutional, and they're not alone.

Lew Tetlow is a founder and president of the Senior Pilots Coalition, which formed last year to push the FAA to up the mandatory retirement age to 65. Tetlow complains, "I just don’t see how Congress can do that."

Tetlow, who lives in New Hampshire, was forced to retire in May of last year from US Airways. He tells the paper he now spends 100 percent of his workdays leading efforts to get the new law thrown out.

The FAA had supported the exclusion of already-retired pilots, which served to save the airlines the costs of providing recurrent training to bring 60-something pilots back from layoff, only to work for a maximum of five more years.

Hathcoat notes the result of the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act has been to force hardship on many of the people it was supposed to help. He tells the Star, "We can’t get our old jobs back, can’t draw reduced Social Security benefits for another three years or full benefits until 66. Now, how crazy is that?"



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