Washington Report: Congress tries end run on age 60

 - March 26, 2007, 6:23 AM

Although the FAA has finally acquiesced to allowing commercial pilots to fly past their 60th birthday, a group of legislators has introduced a bill that would move the process along at what passes for “warp speed” in Congress.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey announced in late January that the FAA will introduce rulemaking that will permit Part 121 pilots over age 60 to fly as part of a required two-pilot crew when the other crewmember has not reached age 60. But she said the rulemaking process will take 18 months to two years and would not be made retroactive under any circumstance.

This means that pilots who are currently close to age 60 might not be able to benefit from any change. The FAA policy revision would bring the U.S. into alignment with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which approved the change, effective last November.

Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), an active general aviation pilot with a commercial certificate, has introduced H.R. 1125, the “Freedom to Fly Act of 2007,” which would go into effect 30 days after the legislation is enacted.

“Safety in the skies is top priority for our nation’s airline industry, and we can continue this standard by keeping our most experienced pilots from forced early retirements,” said Hayes. “Pilots are valued for their experience. The [age 60] retirement law arbitrarily pushes our most seasoned pilots out the door with no regard for their true skills.”

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), Republican leader on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is cosponsoring the bill. “A change to increase the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots is long overdue,” said Mica. “The FAA and ICAO have studied this issue and both came to the expert conclusion that with the right requirements the retirement age can be safely changed to 65.”

Hayes noted that pilots over age 60 will have to pass the same rigorous medical and proficiency tests as a 25-year-old pilot to ensure they are operating at the highest level. He added that foreign pilots have successfully worked beyond age 60, and U.S. pilots should be able to as well.

H.R. 1125 orders the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress within 24 months of the new standard’s implementation on the effect–if any–on aviation safety. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee. It already has 45 cosponsors.

As a member of ICAO, the FAA has to allow foreign airline pilots older than 60 to fly into and out of the U.S., although U.S. pilots cannot. An aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) convened by Blakey late last year was unable to reach consensus on whether to recommend increasing the upper age limit to 65. 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 increasing the age to 65.