Monday, March 21, 2005

Dude, Where's My Car?

As previously mentioned, I got my four day trip extended into my fifth day of reserve, which is why I'm back in Billings right now. And I've hit a quandary: I don't remember where I parked my car in the employee lot. I'm guessing that it's near where I usually park, but I no longer consciously remember arriving for this trip. I can only imagine how bad it's gonna be when I'm like 55.

On a somewhat related note, the Age-60 rule may soon become the Age-63 or 65 rule. There's always been some active opposition to the FAA's requirement that airline pilots retire by their 60th birthday, but this time the chances look pretty good.

The environment is different this time because various bankrupt carriers such as United and USAirways have terminated their pensions. This leaves the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. (PBGC) to administer their pilot pension plan according to a standard, greatly reduced formula. The problem is that this formula is based on age of retirement. If you retire at age 65, you get about $44,000 per year - itself a massive cut from the pension that retirees expected - but at age 60 it is under $29,000 per year. With retirees unable to draw on Social Security benefits until age 65, airline pilots forced to retire at age 60 are faced with real financial difficulty. Thus Congress has recently started to take action.

The courts may beat them to it. Twelve Southwest Airlines pilots are suing the federal government to have the age-60 rule waived for them. Incredibly, Southwest is supporting their lawsuit:

Next week, TIME has learned, Southwest Airlines will file a friend of the court brief in support of the pilots' challenge. For Southwest, one of the nation's biggest airlines and one which, remarkably, has never had a fatal accident in its thirty years of flying, to be the first major airline to take such a decisive step puts real momentum behind the move to throw out the Age 60 rule. "Times are changing," says Southwest spokesman Linda Rutherford. "We are losing some really good pilots."

In the short term, this is bad news for young pilots like myself who are hoping for retirements at the majors to create a little movement within the industry. Still, I think it's the right thing to do. If a pilot wishes to work beyond 60, so long as they can pass the medical every six months, there is no data that suggests that they are less safe than a younger pilot. Indeed, their vast field of experience likely offsets any slowdown in mental abilities. Still, in 37 years I suspect I'll have had enough, & will retire to a comfortable life of Super Cub flying.