Senators Reintroduce Bill To Raise Pilot Retirement Age to 67

 - March 22, 2023, 12:37 PM
Some 5,000 U.S. airline pilots will have to retire in the next two years if Congress doesn't pass an age limit increase. (Photo: Airbus)

Seven U.S. senators on Tuesday reintroduced a bill to increase the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from 65 to 67 amid what Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) characterized as a severe and growing pilot shortage. First introduced last summer, the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act stalled during the last Congressional session and resurfaced this week with bipartisan support.

Apart from raising the retirement age, the bill requires that pilots over age 65 renew their first-class medical certifications every six months. It does not alter any other qualification to become an airline pilot.

With baby boomers now accounting for half of the airline pilot population, roughly 5,000 airline pilots must retire within the next two years—in addition to the 3,000 who took early retirement packages during the Covid pandemic—if the age limit doesn’t change. Meanwhile, the National Air Carrier Association estimates that another 12,000 pilots plan to retire over the next five years and that the industry will see a shortfall of 28,000 by the end of the decade.

When the U.S. last raised the retirement age in 2007, from 60 to 65, medical reports concluded that age had an “insignificant impact” on performance in the cockpit and that regulations already outlined safety precautions to prevent accidents in case of incapacitation. 

“One of the biggest causes of air delays is a lack of available crews,” noted Graham. “Lately, if your plane actually leaves on time, you feel like you won the lottery…The traveling public deserves better than what they are currently getting. Our bill moves the needle in the right direction to address the critical pilot shortage.”

The measure met with approval from aviation alphabet organizations including the Regional Airline Association, which for years has warned that a shortage of pilots would result in air service losses to many small and medium-sized communities.

“A growing pilot shortage and an even more acute shortage of airline captains—a byproduct of letting the pilot shortage worsen over time—has devastated small community air service across the United States,” said RAA president Faye Malarkey Black. “Already, 324 airports have lost an average of one-third of their air service and 53 airports have lost more than half of their air service.  Fourteen airports have lost all flights.”

While Black argued for the need for longer-term solutions focusing on training and career access, she also noted that short-term legislative measures would help stem the alarming loss of air service. Black added that pilots over the age of 65 already serve in U.S. airline Part 135 and charter operations and that Canada and nine other countries impose no mandatory retirement age. Japan mandates retirement at age 68. 

“Raising the pilot retirement age keeps experienced pilots—particularly captains—in place and will have an immediate, positive impact on the pilot shortage,” she explained. “Additionally, as airlines of all sizes address ‘juniority’ in the pilot workforce, raising the retirement age keeps experienced pilots in the flight deck where they are needed to mentor and share their expertise, helping to create a strong foundation for the next generation.”