US Wants to Raise Pilot Retirement Age

U.S. aviation officials will propose raising the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots from 60 to 65, aviation industry sources said on Monday.

Marion Blakey, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, is expected to announce on Tuesday that the agency will propose a regulation later this year, two sources said. The current age limit has been in place for nearly 50 years.

Blakey's office would not confirm the plan that is expected to be unveiled in a speech before industry and government officials at the National Press Club.

The sources, who have knowledge of the FAA's plans, said Blakey supports an across-the-board increase in the retirement ceiling. Pilots older than 65 will be able to fly a jetliner as long as the other pilot in the cockpit is under 60. Most flights have at least two pilots aboard.

Contentious debate over the age rule has simmered for years without action by the FAA or Congress. But recent safety and economic developments have put pressure on regulators to take a closer look.

In November, an international safety convention -- recognized by the FAA -- adopted the age 65 rule for pilots operating foreign-flag carriers to and from the United States.

Due to bankruptcy at big U.S. airlines in recent years, thousands of pilots have lost billions in traditional pension benefits. New retirement plans rely heavily on employee, rather than company, contributions. Giving senior pilots additional time to invest could help them recoup some of the benefits they have lost, pilot groups say.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believes the age 60 rule violates discrimination laws. Some members of Congress have proposed legislation to overturn it.

Health experts have also challenged the long-held assumption that pilots over 60 were less prepared medically to fly a jetliner than younger counterparts. Pilots say good health and experience are the crucial factors.