August 8, 2022

We’re dealing with a major pilot shortage in the United States. While regional airlines are most impacted by this, the reality is that the implications go way beyond that.

There are different solutions being proposed to help with the pilot shortage. For example, a major regional airline is asking the FAA to lower the minimum number of hours for airline pilots from 1,500 to 750, which seems logical. It looks like we could soon see another solution to this issue, in the form of the pilot retirement age being increased.

Legislation could increase pilot retirement age

Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is allegedly working on a rather sensible bill (I know!) that would see the commercial airline pilot retirement age raised by two years, from 65 to 67. According to Airline Weekly, Graham is in the process of trying to build support for this legislation.

This would be the second time in recent years that the pilot retirement age is raised. Back in 2007, the commercial airline pilot retirement age in the United States was raised from 60 to 65.

That not only reflected that people are generally living longer, but it was also at a time when airlines were on the brink of liquidation, and many pilots lost some of their pensions and took huge pay cuts during bankruptcy proceedings. So the extra five years was almost intended as a way for them to earn back some of the money they lost.

The airline pilot retirement age could be raised by two years

This is logical and shouldn’t face much objection

Raising the pilot retirement age to 67 makes perfect sense to me:

  • Pilots have to undergo recurrent training and medical exams, and they’ll only continue to be able to fly if they’re deemed to be fit to do so
  • Many people don’t actually want to retire at 65, so after they’re forced to retire from the airlines, they go fly for private jet operators (where the same retirement age doesn’t apply)
  • In general forcing “fit” people to retire at an arbitrary age just seems silly to me

How will this play out with pilots, unions, and airline management?

  • I don’t see why pilots wouldn’t be in favor of this, assuming flying for an extra two years is simply an option, and nothing is taken away if pilots still want to retire at 65; the only downside might be for more junior pilots, as their seniority may be partially “stalled” for two years (then again, that won’t be a huge issue with the current shortage)
  • I don’t see why unions would object here; they often overly protect the interests of the more senior members, and I’m sure many would love to fly a bit longer
  • If anything, airlines might be most opposed to this in the long run, because it will mean that more pilots are at the top of the pay scale, since pilot pay accounts for how many years you’ve been at the airline; airlines largely prefer more junior employees, who aren’t topping out the pay scale

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) has already sent out a survey to members asking for their take on the potential for the retirement age to be increased. Often unions will quickly try to strike down change, but that doesn’t seem to be the tone here, at least initially.

Pilots have to go through recurrent training

Bottom line

We could soon see legislation proposed that would raise the airline pilot retirement age in the United States from 65 to 67. While this wouldn’t entirely solve the pilot shortage, letting pilots have longer careers would definitely help.

To me this seems sensible. If pilots want to work for an extra two years, and if they’re safely able to do so, why not let them fly a bit longer? I’m curious to see what comes of this…

What do you make of the prospect of the pilot retirement age being increased?

See also  California’s Tricky Airline Crew Rest Dispute