Airline pilots bring age-60 fight to court

 - April 30, 2007, 10:51 AM

Three pilots for US Airways have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to force the FAA to immediately grant them exemptions from the mandatory retirement age of 60.

They demand that FAA Administrator Marion Blakey overturn the “age-60 rule” that was imposed in 1959, and they asked the federal court to direct her “to issue a decision on each respondent’s pending request for an exemption from a regulation forbidding him from flying as a pilot for his employer after his sixtieth birthday.”

The three pilots asked the court to rule by April 30. Lewis Tetlow III turned 60 on April 2. Richard Morgan will be 60 on May 21, and Joseph LoVecchio will be 60 on January 30.

Blakey announced in January that the FAA will propose a new rule to permit Part 121 pilots over age 60 to fly as part of a two-pilot crew when the other crewmember is under age 60. The change will harmonize U.S. rules with international regulations. In November the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) instituted a rule that a pilot can fly until reaching age 65 if the other required pilot is under age 60.

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. When Blakey made the announcement about the impending change, she said that the Joint Aviation Authorities in Europe had been allowing pilots to fly until 65, so ICAO’s move was the right thing to do. “And in the interest of harmonization, it’s time for us to do so as well,” she said.

But she said that the rulemaking process will take 18 months to two years and will not be made retroactive.

The newly created Senior Pilots Coalition (SPC), which has more than 300 members, said the lawsuit was filed “as a last resort” after an unproductive meeting with FAA officials on March 23. Agency officials said that in the usual course of business, waiver applications are acted on within 120 days of receipt; changes to the age 60 rule are under consideration; no action on waiver applications would be taken “piecemeal” because the regulation might be altered; and it would be September before the FAA is likely to finish its internal consideration of changes to the rule and months thereafter before the rule change, if any, would occur.

But pilots at or near age 60 are getting antsy. In Congress, Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), an active general aviation pilot with a commercial certificate, has introduced a bill that would speed up the implementation process. It would take effect 30 days after enactment.

The SPC is warning that the age-60 rule is threatening to cost the nation 5,000 or more of its most experienced pilots over the next two years or so. It further claimed that pilots are being forced to retire at a rate of about 100 per month.

In their petition, Tetlow, Morgan and LoVecchio argue it is unreasonable to withhold action on their applications for waivers until changes–if any–are made to the age-60 rule.

“It is likely that the request for exemption will be granted or, if denied, it would be overturned by this court because: (a) there is no scientific basis that pilots over the age of 60 are unfit to fly commercial aircraft; (b) foreign commercial air carriers are permitted to fly within the United States with pilots over the age of 60; (c) the age limit [on its face] violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” the petition said.

They also argued that the FAA’s intentional failure to act on the waiver applications threatens them with irreparable harm because, after their employment is terminated
because waivers have not been granted, US Airways will have no obligation to rehire them.

Corporate Pilots Continue Legal Fight

Another pilot has been added to the age-discrimination lawsuit pending against ExxonMobil in the U.S. District Court in Dallas. Buford “Buff” Barrett was named to the suit, which claims the company unfairly forces corporate pilots to retire at age 60. A brief filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at the end of February is requesting the pilots resume flight status, pending the outcome of the lawsuit. According to EEOC attorney Robert Canino, his agency’s position is parallel to the FAA’s based on recent comments made by Administrator Marion Blakey.