Pilots' union now supports age-65 retirement
WASHINGTON » U.S. airline pilots' largest union now supports lifting their retirement age to 65, ending almost three decades of opposition and boosting prospects for quicker government action to change the current quit-at-60 rule.
Yesterday's shift by the 60,000-member Air Line Pilots Association "absolutely" will speed passage of legislation in Congress to implement an age-65 standard, said Paul Emens, a Southwest Airlines Co. pilot seeking the age change.
"This should bring walls tumbling down," Emens, chairman of Airline Pilots Against Age Discrimination, said in an interview. "ALPA has been the primary opposition to change. Now basically all pilots are pushing in the same direction."
The biggest victors in the vote by the union's executive board are Southwest and JetBlue Airways Corp., which pushed for a higher retirement age more aggressively than rivals. The two airlines don't have defined-benefit pension plans, which get more expensive to maintain as employees stay on the job longer.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which set the age-60 rule in 1959 for safety reasons, has concluded that there is no medical justification for that standard. FAA chief Marion Blakey said Jan. 30 the agency will raise the retirement age to 65 in a rule-making process that may take two years or more.
Pilots getting closer to age 60 want Congress to make the change, saying it can act faster. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved an age-65 rule on May 16 as part of a four-year, $65 billion proposal to finance the FAA.
"This is an idea whose time has come," said Bill Voss, chief executive officer of the non-profit Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia. "People are living longer. Our ability to monitor medical conditions is improving."
Until yesterday, ALPA's stance favored younger pilots, who viewed the age-60 retirement rule as helping their chances for promotion. Many older pilots sought to fly longer, including some who lost retirement benefits in airline bankruptcies.
The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, which recommends global air-safety regulations, adopted a standard that pilots should be allowed to fly to age 65 as long as the other pilot in the cockpit is younger than 60.
Pilots' union members as recently as November reaffirmed their opposition to a higher retirement age. All four voting union members on an FAA study panel supported age 60. The panel couldn't reach an agreement on whether to change the age.
Since then, Blakey announced the change and the Senate committee voted. In a statement yesterday, the union said it decided to help shape the way the retirement change is implemented rather than continue to fight the move.