WASHINGTON – Airline pilots would be allowed to fly until they turn 65 instead of the current mandatory retirement age of 60 under new rules proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
At least one member of a flight crew would still have to be under 60 under the proposal announced Tuesday by agency administrator Marion Blakey.
The FAA's proposal mirrors a rule adopted in November by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations group.
Blakey said it's important to adhere to international aviation standards and that pilots are living longer, healthier lives.
"Is there a group of employees in better shape than pilots?" Blakey said at a luncheon speech.
She said it would take 18 months to two years for the rule to be put into place. It won't affect pilots who reach retirement age before it takes effect, she said.
Blakey last year ordered a forum of airline, labor and medical experts to recommend whether the United States should raise the age limit. By November, the group hadn't reached a consensus, but outlined the pros and cons of the issue.
Those who favored raising the retirement age said there was no medical evidence that older pilots were unsafe.
Those who oppose raising the retirement age, including leaders of the Air Line Pilots Association, said the safety impact of changing the retirement age hasn't been analyzed.
A lot of pilots want to work longer because their pensions were slashed after their airlines sought bankruptcy protection.
"Many pilots have taken huge penalties to their pensions, and this is a way to recoup some of that," said Carl Kuwitzky, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association, which has lobbied for the change.
Kuwitzky said many 60-year-old pilots enjoy their careers and are in excellent health.
"They want to continue to fly for a number of years," Kuwitzky said.
Flight Safety Foundation President William Voss said raising the retirement age could help alleviate a pilot shortage.
"With a desperate shortage of pilots in much of the world, it makes no sense to force experienced, qualified and healthy pilots to retire while airlines are scrambling to fill those seats," Voss said.
AARP issued a statement applauding the change. "Today's FAA announcement is an important signal that workers should be judged on the basis of their individual ability, not on unfounded assumptions and stereotypes about age," said David Certner, AARP's legislative policy director.
Since the international standard changed, foreign pilots have been able to fly in the United States up to age 65, as long as they're accompanied by a co-pilot under 60 and undergo medical testing every six months.
The FAA doesn't have to comply with the international standard for pilots' retirement age, as long as it can show a reason not to.