Retired Pilots Charge Age Discrimination

Landing a commercial plane at Dallas' Love Field is no longer allowed for Southwest Airlines pilots Mickey Oksner and Bert Yetman. Both were forced to retire for one reason -- they reached 60 years of age.

"It has never been fair. There are a lot of pilots in my position, and Southwest, in particular, is very vocal about changing this rule, because it's blatant age discrimination," Oksner told FOX News.

For the past 45 years, the Federal Aviation Administration (search) has mandated that commercial pilots must retire at age 60 to ensure safety. The argument, according to the FAA, is that the older one gets, the more likely the chance for a slowdown in reflexes or cognitive ability. For pilots, who are responsible for the lives of everyone on board, a slowdown could mean catastrophe.

The Allied Pilots Association (search) supports the FAA's rule, saying experimenting with a higher retirement age is not worth the risk.

"At some point, that experiment will yield an accident that you can attribute to aging, so is it arbitrary? Yes, just like 55 would be arbitrary, just like 65 would be arbitrary," said Gregg Overman of the APA.

According to Labor Department records, last month almost 19 million Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 were still working or looking for employment. Of that total, 6.6 million were over 60.

And a change in the rule could be coming, either in Congress or from the U.S. Supreme Court. A group of pilots has petitioned the court to raise the pilot retirement age. The deadline to file a "friend of the court" brief is Thursday.

Two bills in Congress — one in the House and one in the Senate — would raise the retirement age to 65, the same age that individuals can start collecting Social Security. Those bills are still at the committee level.

Pilots supporting the change say older professionals are the most experienced in their field.

"It's not correct for them to have to take a job as a Wal-Mart greeter or flip hamburgers at McDonald's," Yetman said.

But supporters of the cut-off age say the oldest pilots have the most taxing flights.

In the "last few years of a pilot's career, they are generally inclined to fly long haul international, which will beat you up," Overman said.

Even so, Southwest Airlines (search) and Jet Blue (search) say they support a change that reflects a changing America, where more and more seniors feel that their lives are still taking off.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Phil Keating.