The question of the legal retirement age for pilots remains a highly debatable issue in the aviation employment sector. The ICAO considers that captains and pilots-in-command are fully capable of flying at the age of 60-65 and this policy is included in the national laws of many countries. Despite the more or less commonly used practice the disputes among pilots and airlines regarding the issue are as loud as ever. Should the pilots keep flying beyond 60 or should they give way to young generation of pilots?
‘A few years ago introduced initiative proposing to extend the retirement age for pilots temporarily closed the gaps in the pilot market. The authorities raised the retirement age beyond 60 and it seemed that the dynamics was finally sorted – the newly graduated students were ready to replace the retiring pilots and the market was balanced. However, the current market is entirely different: there are plenty of young pilots to choose from but experienced pilots are scarce.’,- explained the CEO of AviationCV.com Skaiste Knyzaite.
From the perspective of airlines the current situation poses two options. If an airline decides to go for experienced pilots it must take into account that extending the retirement age to 65 incurs extra expenditure. The salary of a highly qualified captain with around 10 years of experience is almost 5 times as high as the one of a young first-officer. On top of that are the legally required number of medical examinations and closer monitoring. With these factors in mind the Canadian court has recently ruled in favour of the retirement age not overstepping 60 and cleared Air Canada from all age discrimination charges. Moreover, due to constantly increasing passenger flows more and more airlines choose to build flying schedules that cover the maximum of allowed monthly flying hours. After all, keeping the minimum number of pilots on a payroll can significantly reduce costs. As a result, pilots are constantly under pressure and can experience fatigue that negatively influences performance. Needless to say, older pilots are more prone to being affected by strenuous schedules.
However, the Canadian example does not stand as a global precedent. In the recent case involving Lufthansa pilots the European Court of Justice ruled that the compulsory retirement age of 60 is considered to be discriminatory, and thus pilots should be allowed to continue their employment till 65.
‘From the pilots’ perspective qualification is the key factor determining skill and experience levels. Most passengers would probably prefer to fly with an airline pilot over 60 than someone who is taking their first plane out on the runway”, - says S.Knyzaite.
Claims about the poorer medical condition of the older pilots have been proved unreasonable. According the US Department of Transport study, since 2007, when the US accepted the bill regarding pilots’ retirement at 65, no accidents or incidents have been attributed to health conditions of pilots aged 60 or above. The group of doctors who test pilots every year have also declared the rule of mandatory retirement at 60 to be ‘unjust and unfounded’.
Nowadays the general population age is constantly increasing and people are becoming more functional and healthier than ever before. Therefore it’s negotiable whether it is wrong to use 60 as an arbitrary cut-off or not.
‘However, there is always another side of the coin. A typical airline growth has lately been so rapid that, if it continues, the largest carriers might need to double the number of pilots over the next 10 to 15 years. In reaction to the shrinking supply and due to the age limits, hiring standards are dropping. For instance, American Airlines’ regional carrier, American Eagle, now hires co-pilots with only 1,000 hours of experience, compared with its previous minimum of 1,500-2,000 hours.
These factors in mind, there is no surprise that the issue is very no less relevant than it was five or even ten years ago. The key questions remain: Can the age cut-off be potentially detrimental to aviation safety and should airlines remove the most senior command pilots from the very positions that demand the most experience or not?”, – concludes S.Knyzaite.