Age 60: Aging Pilots Lose Again

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The long-running battle among professional pilots to rescind the FAA's "age-60 rule" met a major roadblock on Monday when the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. A dozen pilots were trying to appeal a lower-court decision that the rule does not constitute age discrimination. The pilots argued that as long as they are competent and healthy they should be able to continue to fly. The effort had seemed to be gathering support recently when Southwest Airlines filed a "friend of the court" brief, arguing that the rule is arbitrary and deprives the airline of its most experienced pilots. Apparently the court was unmoved. In the past, airlines and pilots' unions have resisted attempts to get rid of the age cap. For the airlines, the rule limited the time pilots stayed at the top of the pay grid and saved them money. For the unions, it meant steady advancement for younger members. And for the retiring pilots themselves, the age limit guaranteed a well-funded retirement with, in most cases, plenty of years left to enjoy it. Those contemporarily cushy retirement packages are now on their way out and many older pilots say they need a few more years of work to get ready for retirement. The Air Line Pilots Association also has recently softened its decades-long support of the rule, and is undergoing a review of its position. Bills now pending in Congress would push the limit to 65 if passed.