This article originally appeared in IFR Refresher, June 2007.Professional pilots have been hounding the FAA for years to increase their maximum retirement age past 60 for a number of reasons. [And the increase finally happened, although after this article was originally written.] One reason is financial: More time on the job translates into larger paychecks and fatter retirement benefits. The other is that no medical research currently proves pilots past 60 pose any significant threat to themselves or their passengers while in command of an aircraft. Anecdotally, however, even pilots admit their reaction times are slower at 60 than they were at 40 or even 50, not to mention an increase in the overall number of aches and pains they experience. However, the age-60 restriction applies only to pilots flying in revenue service, such as Part 121 scheduled airlines. Part 91 pilots can continue flying as long as they can successfully pass the required FAA medical, an exam that becomes more stringent as the applicant ages. To exercise the privileges of an airline transport pilot, airmen must have passed their medical exam within the preceding six months. At 35, for example, a First Class medical also requires a pilot to successfully complete an electrocardiogram (EKG). After age 40, a First Class medical requires an annual EKG. These tests offer an FAA physician a glimpse of the pilot's cardiac rhythm at a moment in time. As we age, there are simply more opportunities for our bodies to react suddenly when an internal part breaks down.
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