Survey: most pilots oppose age regulation

 - March 15, 2007, 7:48 AM

Sixty-three percent of the more than 300 pilots responding to a survey on the NBAA Web site said there should be no maximum pilot age limit for operating turbine aircraft under Part 121 in U.S. airspace.

The pilot age survey was posted on the NBAA site by Brian Fiske,
v-p of Around the World Jet Charter in Murrieta, Calif., who is a candidate for a master’s degree in aerospace science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Fiske told AIN that his interest in the topic was first sparked when he interviewed “a very qualified pilot who was almost 70 for a captain’s position on a Falcon Jet.” The pilot, who held a first-class medical, was experienced, type-rated, and had recently finished recurrent training.

In a note accompanying his NBAA posting, Fiske said his interest was further piqued with the advent of very light jets (VLJs), many of which will likely be flown by individuals in professional occupations or by aging Baby Boomers.

Not surprisingly, 39 percent of those who answered the questionnaire were between the ages of 51 and 60. Another 30 percent were between 41 and 50 years of age. Fifteen percent were between 31 and 40, and 11 percent were older than 60. The remaining 5 percent were between 18 and 30.

On the question of age restrictions, if one had to be chosen, 30 percent of the pilots said it should be age 70 and above, while 26 percent put the limit at 65 years. Only 7 percent agreed with the FAA’s age-60 cutoff, while 4 percent said it should be 63 years of age.

But 86 percent of the respondents agreed that the current age-60 rule requiring airline pilots to retire is outdated, although they were almost evenly split (162 yes and 140 no) that the current FAA medical examinations properly screen pilots over the age of 60. Seventy-two percent held first-class medicals and fully 90 percent were holders of ATPs.

For those pilots over the age of 60 who fly turbine equipment, 58 of the respondents said cognitive issues are most important for screening during medical exams. That was followed by coronary disease (26 percent). Asked if pilots over the age of 60 should have class 2 and class 3 medical examinations more frequently than the current requirements, 123 pilots (41 percent) said yes, but 180 (59 percent) said no.

The final question asked: “With VLJs coming into use by general aviation pilots, do you feel there should be a maximum age limitation for pilots operating these aircraft as PIC?” Fifty-seven percent (174 pilots) said no, while 43 percent (129 pilots) answered yes.

“There are many pilots over the age of 60 who seem to defy the aging process and have some of the best flight experience anyone could find in a pilot,” Fiske said in posting his survey results. “To ground such an individual [from flying for the airlines] would be a crime if one is able to meet medical and flight standards.”

While he concedes further research needs to be completed considering the new technology in aircraft, avionics, simulation and medical screening, Fiske said the “bottom line is that [if] an age 60-plus pilot works hard to take care of himself or herself physically and mentally and meets the standards of today’s check rides, let them fly!”