Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Greybeards vs. Whippersnappers

Ever since the FAA enacted the so-called "Age 60" rule in 1959, it has been a perenially debated issue among professional pilots, usually along generational lines. Here's the reg that has everyone up in arms:
"No certificate holder may use the services of any person as a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under this part if that person has reached his 60th birthday. No person may serve as a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under this part if that person has reached his 60th birthday." CFR 14 § 121.383(c)
This rule, which only applies to FAR 121 (airline) pilots, and not to FAR 135 or corporate pilots, ostensibly "was promulgated in order to maintain a high level of safety in part 121 operations" (FAA's quote). In fact, the rule came to be as the result of a backroom deal between American Airlines' C. R. Smith and then-FAA administrator Pete Quesada. Smith did this after ALPA struck his airline over it's imposition of a mandatory retirement age, among other issues; ironically, ALPA is now one of the age 60 rule's most staunch supporters.

A few months ago, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommended that it's member states increase their retirement ages to 65. Most members have done so; the United States is the most notable exception. This, along with the recent pension terminations at several major US airlines, has led Congress to begin work on legislation which would force the age to 65, against the wishes of the FAA.

Okay, so there's the background. Let the grudge match begin!
Greybeard: The age 60 rule is wrong, always has been. It has no basis in medical research, and is simply age discrimination meant to hold down labor costs.

Whippersnapper: No argument here, Pops. I agree that it's a bad rule. On the other hand, we have a lot of guys and gals on furlough, with retirements their only hope of recall. It's a bad time to be changing the law.

Greybeard: Hey, they're not the only ones affected by current industry troubles. My pension was terminated last year, and that latest paycut isn't making it any easier to save for retirement. The truth is, I can't afford to retire right now. I've got to keep working if I want to maintain my lifestyle.

Whippersnapper: Maintain your lifestyle!? I have furloughed friends bartending and selling used cars to make ends meet. You're willing to leave them in the gutter so you can keep your membership at the country club?

Greybeard: Whoa, kid! It's not that I'm unsympathetic to their fate. Remember, I've been there a few times myself. But that's just part of being junior at any airline. I've paid my dues at this company for 35 years; doesn't that count for anything?

Whippersnapper: Sure it does. You should get the same thing that 35 year captains got when you were a junior FO: employment until age 60. You knew what the score was when you signed up; you're trying to change the rules mid-game, after you've already benefited from a bunch of guys retiring at age 60.

Greybeard: Don't get mean. I would love exactly what those guys got at age 60: a nice fat pension and a boot out the door. The rules changed when our pension got yanked out from under us. Now, it's not unreasonable for us to work a bit longer.

Whippersnapper: Well, how long is enough? Is age 65 really enough? Isn't that just another unjust, arbitrary age? It's only a matter of time before somebody demands that it be upped again.

Greybeard: Well, if a guy can still pass an FAA medical....

Whippersnapper: (laughing) That's pretty funny, Gramps! You and I both know a few guys that are walking coronaries, yet they can still find someone to pencilwhip them a new medical every six months. I'll bet I could find an examiner to give my dead grandma a Class I medical.

Greybeard: Okay, so we still set an arbitrary age limit, make it 65. Still, it's more fair than what we have now. At least by age 65 you qualify for social security benefits.

Whippersnapper: For you, maybe. I'm not counting on them being around for me.

Greybeard: You said you agreed that it needed to be changed.

Whippersnapper: I said it's a bad rule, in a cosmic justice sense. Yeah, it should be changed. I just don't think it should be changed right now for the purpose of providing relief to one age group at the expense of all others. It's not just the current furloughees that will get screwed. Junior guys like me will be furlough fodder for that much longer. Senior FOs will be topping out on the payscales soon, finding their salaries stagnant with no hope of upgrade. There's a good chance that previously retired guys over 60 will sue the airline to come back, and then you're going to see another round of furloughs and downgrades.

Greybeard: If not now, when? This is the first time in 40 years that there's been enough political support to actually change the rule.

Whippersnapper: Okay, so change it now, with a graduated implementation. Make it so the age is 62 in 2007, 63 in 2009, 64 in 2011, and 65 from 2013 on. Combine it with legislation that requires the PBGC to pay out full benefits to those required to retire before age 65 by federal law.

Greybeard: Great. So I get two more years of depressed payrates, then the whole $40k/yr from the PBGC. Sounds like a great deal, ace. (rolls eyes).

Whippersnapper: Hey, I still won't like you sitting in my seat for another two years. It's called a compromise.

Greybeard: Yeah, one that just coincidently has you retiring at age 65.

Whippersnapper: And probably not making the beaucoup bucks that you did in the late 90's. I can't believe you 777 captains were making over $300k/yr and didn't think to stash some money away in case your pension went bust. Or did your ex-wife take it all?

Greybeard: The witch.

Whippersnapper: Well, you were sleeping with that flight attendant, Bunny. I mean, pension or no, at some point you have to take responsibility for your actions and how they've affected your financial preparation for retirement. As the old saying goes, a lack of preparation on your part does not necessarilly constitute an emergency on my part.

Greybeard: Why, you little...! (begins throttling W.S.)
Yes, good fun. You can see that this is a tough issue that has some good points on both sides, but is fraught with self-interest. Where do I come down on it? Push comes to shove, I guess I support the change, but not very enthusiastically. I personally think I'll be ready to hang it up at age 60; by then I'll have been flying for 47 years, airliners for 38 of those. I'll be ready to either stay on the ground or close to it in a 100-yr old Cub.

Here's an interesting tidbit of info that adds fuel to the fire: officials at the FAA's aeromedical bureau have indicated that if Congress forces the FAA to increase the retirement age, the FAA will respond by significantly toughening medical standards for pilots over 50. We could see an "astronaut physical" forcing many pilots to retire long before they're financially ready.


Traytable said...

Interesting post. Nice take on the issue, too.

Clark said...

I have the perfect solution for Whippersnapper and all the other junior airline pilots out there who say that a change to the age 60 rule would be unfair to them by slowing upgrades and causing seniority list stagnation. I say then, make it mandatory for ALL airline pilots to retire after serving no more than 20 years with a company or age 65 whichever comes first. If you hire on with a company at age 25, then you are kicked out of the cockpit when you turn age 45 or if you hire on at 45, you retire at 65. That would be equally fair to both Greybeard and Whippersnapper by giving everyone just enough time to build their 401K with enough to survive on in retirement. Of course, my solution would never fly and only suggests the real motive behind the militant junior pilots at ALPA and APA opposing a change to the age 60 rule and that is age discrimination, nothing more and nothing less.

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sam said...

Is this the CA Clark I've flown with a few times? Welcome to my blog!

Hmm, the "20 years and out" would probably be the most fair way to do it. Airline management would certainly love it. Don't think it'd pass muster in the courts, though. And do 55 year old career changers still get 20 years? I realize you're not serious in this proposal, you're just saying such a proposal would expose the hypocrisy of young pilots who oppose upping the age 60 limit.

This is the second time I've heard you saying something to the effect of "the real motive behind the militant junior pilots at ALPA and APA opposing a change to the age 60 rule and that is age discrimination," and I take a bit of an issue with that statement. I have a lot of friends opposed to the change, and it's not that they dislike the older pilots. There's no hating going on. They're just looking out for their interests...which is what you're doing, too. I don't think either side has a monopoly on good intentions; like I said, there is self-interest on all sides.

Clark, I really wouldn't mind if the retirement age went up to 65 at our company. I've resigned myself to a long upgrade, there's a reason I'm here rather than, say, Mesa or Pinnacle. And there aren't enough retirements in the next 5 years to make much of a difference anyways, so I'd just as soon keep nice guys like you around a few more years. But I do have friends furloughed at American (ex-TWA), United, and others, and their fates very much depend on whether retirements continue or not. That's really why I'm torn on this. I think the age should be 65, but I think it should be done in as non-disruptive of a way as possible, possibly a tiered integration. There's more at stake here - particularly future pilot unity. It's going to be management's dream come true if they get a deeply divided pilots for the next 20 years over how the age increase was implemented.

Clark said...

Hi Sam,

I have enjoyed reading your blogs.

Thank you for your rational thoughts on the age 60 subject.

Understandably, junior pilots are worried that changing the age 60 rule would cause promotional stagnation. What junior pilots need to understand is that, if they haven't realized it yet, promotions today---yesterday---and forever are related to growth--not attrition. Most pilots remember the mid to early 90's when a hiring frenzy produced four-month upgrades to Captains. That wasn't because a lot of older pilots were leaving the property.

See you on the line.