American Pilots Ponder Retirement To Save Pensions

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Pilots are used to taking calculated risks but some American Airlines pilots may be cashing in their chips early. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots, says it's getting more inquiries from pilots growing tired of the pension crapshoot. They're considering retiring early out of fears American will follow other major carriers in dumping its pension plan. But union president Ralph Hunter said he believes the airline's pension plan is sound, at least for the short term, and some bills before Congress promise help to stabilize it even more. "We understand that some guys are a little antsy, but there's really nothing that has changed," Hunter told the Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram. "Your risk of losing your lump-sum benefits are the same as they've always been." Last month, 59 of the airline's 10,000 pilots took early retirement, a slight increase. In doing so, they took their accumulated pension benefits as a lump sump, rather than risk losing a substantial amount of the monthly payments they expect in retirement, should American default on the plan. A run on lump sum buyouts could threaten the plan and could also cause a pilot shortage, neither of which has occurred yet, according to American spokesman Tim Wagner. Hunter said some pilots retired early amid similar speculation about the future of their pensions "only to regret their choice a few months later."