"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.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.
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.)
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.