New ICAO retirement age fuels debate about U.S. rule

 - December 7, 2006, 10:33 AM

The FAA aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) on the age-60 retirement issue had not completed its work at press time, but the new International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age to 65 in multi-pilot crews when one crewmember is less than 60 took effect on November 23.

As of that date, foreign airline pilots older than 60 are allowed to fly into and out of the U.S. under the ICAO mandate, although U.S. pilots cannot. Since 1959 the FAA has required that all U.S. pilots stop flying Part 121 airliners at age 60. Most other nations eventually adopted the same age for mandatory retirement.

As a member of ICAO, the FAA must allow foreign pilots past age 60 to continue to work and fly in U.S. airspace. Twelve senators sent a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey urging her agency to adopt the ICAO standard.

“We hope you appreciate that a finding [by the ARC] that leads to a rule allowing foreign pilots to work and fly in the U.S. to age 65 without affording U.S. pilots the same privilege will not sit well with the American people and most members of Congress,” the senators wrote.

At press time, only the U.S., France, Pakistan and Colombia are keeping the age 60 rule, although all must allow foreign pilots to operate in their airspace.
Earlier this year, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed S.65, which would increase to 65 the age limit for airline pilots when the pilot is serving as a required pilot on a multicrew airplane and the other pilot is younger than 60 years.

That bill has now been attached to the Senate’s transportation appropriations bill, likely to be voted on during the current lame-duck session of the 109th Congress. A companion bill–H.R. 65–was referred to the House aviation subcommittee.
The Senate transportation appropriations bill has bipartisan support in Congress, which improves S.65’s chances of surviving a Senate-House conference committee and becoming law.

In response to the ICAO amendment and on behalf of the ARC, the FAA published a request for comments from the public about whether the agency should adopt the ICAO standard. When the comment period ended, the agency had received more than 5,500 comments, the overwhelming majority of which ask the FAA to adopt the new ICAO standard. The ARC was supposed to make its recommendations to Blakey by the end of last month.

Even if the rulemaking committee–which age-65 proponents say is stacked against their interests–recommends keeping the status quo, Congress can order Blakey to make the change, but thus far, neither Congress, the courts nor the FAA has been willing to do so.