FAA denies exemptions to age-60 rule

 - May 31, 2007, 12:21 PM

As baseball player Yogi Berra supposedly said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
The three US Airways pilots who filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asking for exemptions from the FAA’s age 60 mandatory retirement rule are back where they started.

In their petition, the three pilots–Lewis Tetlow III, Richard Morgan and Joseph LoVecchio– asked the court to order the FAA to act by April 30 on their individual requests to fly beyond their 60th birthdays while the agency works to amend the mandatory retirement to age 65 to comply with international standards.

The pilots’ lawyer, Washington, D.C.-area attorney Thomas Gagliardo, told AIN that the three wanted the judge to order the FAA to rule on pending applications for waivers from the age-60 rule. They withdrew the petition when the FAA unilaterally began to issue denials for exemptions even before the appeals court could act.

When FAA Administrator Marion Blakey announced in January that the FAA would increase the mandatory retirement age to 65 to bring the U.S. into compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), she said the rulemaking process would take 18 months to two years and would not be retroactive.

Gagliardo said the decisions that have emanated from FAA headquarters “are all boiler-plate denials.” In its letters of denial, the FAA states, “While we are sympathetic to the individual circumstances of pilots such as yourself who have applied for an exemption while the rulemaking process is ongoing, the FAA simply cannot overturn more than 40 years of precedent in this area without a deliberative process. You have not shown that the public interest warrants relief for individual pilots.”

Fight Likely To Continue
Blakey seemed to have a different opinion when she announced the change, acknowledging, “A pilot’s experience counts; it’s an added measure of safety.”

“That’s the end of that for the time being,” Gagliardo said in explaining the decision to withdraw the petition for waiver. “We are now in the process of strategizing how to appeal those denials.” He said the three pilots also sought a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia “until we can have a full hearing on the merits.” District Court Judge John Bates denied that motion, saying it should go to the Appeals Court. That case argued that the mandatory retirement rule is “arbitrary and capricious.”

The newly created Senior Pilots Coalition (SPC), of which Tetlow, Morgan and LoVecchio are members, warned 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, while the airline industry faces a shortage of qualified pilots.

The SPC is working with the Professional Pilots Federation, which has been battling the FAA on the age-60 rule for more than 15 years. The coalition said it filed the lawsuit “as a last resort” after an unproductive meeting with FAA officials on March 23.