...As Pension Overhaul Plan Passes...

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As the committee was finishing its work, the full Senate was busy ratifying a bill that, among other reforms, would allow pilots caught in the various airline pension-scheme defaults, either completed or imminent, to qualify for the full rate offered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that bails out bankrupt pension plans. Under current regulations, only those who retire at age 65 qualify for the maximum PBGC benefit of about $45,000 a year. Airline pilots, who must retire by 60, are only eligible for about $29,000. An amendment by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would qualify pilots for the full $45,000 if their pension plan goes bust. But the bill also contained provisions to make it easier for airlines to keep their pension funds afloat. The bill would extend the amount of time airlines have to stabilize their pension plans from 14 to 20 years. Northwest Airlines, whose pension fund is underfunded, released a statement saying the bill, if ultimately signed into law, would "allow Northwest to meet our pension obligations to employees and protect the [PBGC], which ultimately protects taxpayers." However, word from the White House is that the president will be urged to veto the bill if it includes the airline provision because the administration is opposed to any measure that would weaken pension funding requirements.