The aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) advising the FAA about whether airline pilots should be able to fly after reaching the agency’s mandatory retirement age of 60 issued what could only be called a split decision.
Although the panel could not reach consensus on whether to recommend raising the age to 65 for two-pilot crews if one of the pilots is under age 60, it did recommend that the FAA not make any change in the so-called age 60 retirement rule retroactive.
At press time, the FAA was studying what its next step would be before releasing the report. Results leaked to various media revealed that four panelists representing
the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and two from American Airlines’ Allied Pilots Association opposed any change. Those in favor of raising the age to 65 were from Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, the independent Southwest Airlines Pilots Association and a group called Airline Pilots Against Age Discrimination. Co-chairmen Duane Woerth, president of ALPA, and Jim May, president of the Air Transport Association, didn’t endorse either position.
Under a recently implemented international aviation rule, a pilot can fly until reaching age 65 if the other required pilot is under age 60. As a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the FAA must allow foreign airline pilots older than 60 to fly into and out of the U.S., although U.S. pilots cannot.
Early last year, a Senate committee passed a bill that 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, and a companion measure introduced in the House, died when Congress adjourned for the year.
That legislation is expected to be reintroduced in the 110th Congress when it convenes this month.
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 5,700 comments, the overwhelming majority of them supporting raising the age to 65.
Although the age 60 rule applies only to Part 121 airline pilots, many corporations adopted it for their pilots. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a pilot for ExxonMobil who was forced to retire when he reached age 60, claiming the oil giant might have violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
According to the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ExxonMobil forced its corporate pilots to retire at age 60 regardless of health, qualifications and other flight-status proficiencies.
In seeking a permanent injunction against ExxonMobil, the EEOC charges that the company relieved Mike Moreschauser of his pilot duties even though he is in excellent health and an experienced pilot with unquestioned abilities.
“The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects these experienced, safe, competent pilots from being grounded just because they reach their 60th birthday,” said EEOC’s Dallas district regional attorney, Robert Canino. “Every individual deserves the freedom to compete in the workplace as far as [his] talents and abilities will allow.”
A spokesman for ExxonMobil told AIN that the company modeled its longstanding practice after FAA regulations governing commercial passenger aircraft pilots.
The EEOC seeks to enjoin ExxonMobil’s use of the mandatory age 60 retirement policy until it can be adjudicated on its merits. The EEOC filed suit for injunctive relief after exhausting its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement.
“The setting of arbitrary age limits regardless of potential for job performance may constitute an unlawful employment practice,” said EEOC senior trial attorney Bill Backhaus. “If the ExxonMobil pilots are displaced from their jobs, they will be especially disadvantaged to regain similar work.”