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Fri, Dec 14, 2007

President Makes It's Official: Age 65 Is Now The Law

Older Pilots Rejoice; Younger Pilots Stew

Some may find it hard to drive 55... but airline pilots may now fly up to 65. Thursday evening, President Bush signed legislation officially raising the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots to 65 from 60, bringing US standards in line with those of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

As ANN reported, legislative action on the measure stalled for months in the halls of Congress, as it was tied to the broader FAA Reauthorization bill. This week, Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar pulled the legislation from that bill, and it sped quickly through the House of Representatives and the Senate as the separate "Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act."

The bill brings an end to controversy that has smoldered for 47 years, since the newly-formed FAA set the age of 60 as the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age in 1960. And for some pilots, it comes not a moment too soon.

"I have two very close friends who retire tomorrow," Southwest Airlines Captain Paul Emens, 59, told The Chicago Tribune Thursday. "That makes me highly motivated: trying to save the jobs of people I know."

Under the bill, pilots who choose to fly commercially past age 60 need to have their medical certificates renewed every six months, and submit to a line check twice a year. They'll also need to participate in additional training and qualification programs.

Flights departing US airports for foreign destinations would require at least one pilot under the age of 60, if a pilot between 60-65 is also part of the flight crew.

Pilots who celebrate their 60th birthdays before Age 65 went into effect are out of luck, as airlines aren't be required to hire them back. If they want to keep flying, those pilots will need to reapply for their jobs, and start at the bottom of the seniority scale... a provision that all-but guarantees those pilots will opt to seek employment elsewhere.

"I'd have to go back as a junior first officer on a 737, which I haven't flown in 18 or 20 years," retired Continental pilot Marty Noonan said. He's now flying Boeing 777s for India's Jet Airways instead.

The legislation also allows older pilots, for airlines who scrapped their pension plans in bankruptcy, five more years to try to recoup their losses. Previously, pilots forced to retire at 60 were denied many retirement benefits, due to a rule by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. -- which assumed the pensions for Delta and United -- that cut retirement benefits for those who leave the workforce before age 65.

Not everyone is a fan of the new law. Younger pilots, who had planned to move up the seniority ranks as older pilots retired, will now have to wait five more years for those slots to open.

"It means five years of stagnation for those who expected to move on when older people retired," noted aviation consultant Robert Mann.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.senate.gov, www.icao.int

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