Topics Airlines

Legal Alert: President Signs Law Permitting Pilots to Fly Until Age 65

Date   Dec 14, 2007

Yesterday (December 13, 2007), the President signed legislation raising the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65. The new law, 49 U.S.C. § 44729, permits pilots of Part 121 aircraft to work until age 65; however, a 60-year-old pilot may only be pilot-in-command of a flight between the United States and another country if there is another pilot in the flight deck crew who is younger than 60. The law provides that the limitation for overseas flights will cease when it is eliminated from the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

The new law is effective immediately (December 13, 2007); however, it is not retroactive. Thus, pilots who turned 60 before December 13, 2007 are not entitled to reinstatement.

Airlines and unions may agree on any amendments to collective bargaining agreements or benefit plans required to comply with the new law.

According to the new law, action taken to comply with its requirements may not serve as the basis for liability under any employment law or regulation. Additionally, the law protects action taken to comply with the requirements of the prior age 60 rule.

Medical Requirements:

Pilots age 60 and over must have a first-class medical certificate, which must be renewed every six months. Airlines may not subject pilots to different medical standards or different, greater or more frequent medical examinations because of their age unless the Secretary of Transportation determines that such standards are necessary to ensure flight safety.

Training and Qualification

The law requires airlines to continue to use pilot training and qualification programs approved by the FAA but requires “specific emphasis” on initial and recurrent training and qualification of pilots age 60 and older “to ensure continued acceptable levels of pilot skill and judgment.”

Within six months of enactment of the law, and every six months thereafter, airlines must conduct line checks of all pilots age 60 and older.  A line check is not required if the pilot is acting as second-in-command and had a regularly scheduled simulator evaluation during the previous six-month period.

Employers’ Bottom Line:

Airlines are expected to comply with the new law immediately. Thus, airlines should take steps to determine what revisions to collective bargaining agreements and benefit plans are necessary to comply with the law. Some airlines may need to amend training schedules to comply with the six-month line check requirement.  Additionally, the law does not define what “specific emphasis” on training and qualification of pilots age 60 and older means; however, it is likely that such pilots should be subject to a certain level of additional training.

If you have any questions regarding the new law, please contact the Ford & Harrison attorney with whom you usually work.