Age-67 Pilot Retirement Back In Legislative Spotlight


FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker has asked Congress to leave the current mandatory age-65 retirement age for airline pilots alone until the agency has studied the idea more. Whitaker sent a letter to Congress warning against what might be growing momentum toward boosting it to 67. “It is crucial to provide the agency an opportunity to conduct research and determine mitigations,” Reuters quoted the letter as saying. Last month Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed similar sentiments in a letter to Congress, saying it would make the U.S. an outlier in the international aviation community and cause problems down the line.

The Senate Commerce Committee is considering a hearing on Thursday to discuss the change and the House has already supported such a move in an overwhelming bipartisan vote last July. The issue is now part of negotiations toward a five-year reauthorization bill for the FAA. The agency is currently being funded by extensions of its previous reauthorization, the latest of which has a little more than a month before it expires. Whitaker will appear at a Tuesday meeting of the House’s aviation subcommittee where he’s expected to be questioned about recent aviation safety incidents.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Well let’s see…….two more years at 400k per year and six weeks of paid vacation……hmmmmm ? Sign me up !

  2. If we can have an 81 year old president with his hands on the nukes, why not have a 70’s pilot flying a bus? A pilot that passes training, check rides, and physicals every 6 months. Every day pilots from 16 to 96 flunk airman physicals. So what is the point of having an age limit when airman medicals catch the deficiencies? Any age limit is the purist form of age discrimination.

    For a US Congressman to call the United States an “outlier in the aviation community” is absurd. The United States is the “leader” in the aviation community around the world.

    • Correction: the US was once the leader in the aviation community, but over the years has decided to take a back seat. All those years of FAA funding always being in question has taken its toll, and with the FAA/Boeing issues, it will likely take many years before we can recover from that.

    • I think what the congressman is alluding to is that ICAO sets the 65 year rule. Three countries (Australia, New Zealand and Brazil) do NOT have an upper age limit for their air carrier pilots -accordingly, pilots over that age are only allowed to conduct operations within or between these 3 countries. However, this would not be so much an issue for pilots over 65 in the US since we have so many domestic flights within the country.

      • And yet Mr Whitaker thinks the FAA should study this issue further. Sorry everyone, if anybody thought that Mr Whitaker would change things for the better at the FAA. You can’t put a career bureaucrat in to lead what is one of the most bureaucratic government agencies and expect any changes. This pilot pt121 age limit is a perfect example. The fact that there is now an age limit at age 70 for a certain fractional outfit just sets the precedent for the FAA to come up with a overall age limit for pilots in general no matter what regulations pilots operate under.

  3. To listen to mayor Pete Buttigieg say anything about aviation is a lost cause. He’s an incompetent idiot. ALPA, APA and SWAPA have been fighting this age raise for years, just as they fought the raise to age 65. I am very happy that the age raised from 60 to 65 as I benefitted from it. I loved flying the big jets, but I’m glad I’m retired. However, for those pilots capable to continue, rock on. Our pilot shortage will be continuing for some time to come.

  4. Fly till you die!
    65 is old enough, I left 20 months before they kicked me out the door, life is worth enjoying without wasting time at the company. If you have been in the industry that long how about paying it forward and teach some fledgling pilots instead of clogging the seniority list. My biggest challenge is saying no when asked to be involved in various community projects both aviation and non aviation related.

    • I’m with you, Sparky (MY nickname is also Sparky 🙂 ). At some point ya gotta realize that no one is getting out of life alive. And as you age, the time remaining gets MORE precious.
      That said, SOME people don’t want to retire … maybe knowing many folks don’t live long after hanging it up. That’s a personal decision. If they can meet all the requirements and tests … let ’em fly. I’m betting most wouldn’t? Maybe it would help the shortfall of pilots, though?
      I’ve been retired 18 years and have been having the time of my life enjoying my GA avocation. That’s what keeps ME on the right side of the grass IMHO. I rejected getting my IA because I don’t want to tell all my buddies, “NO” when they want annuals.

      • Yeah mister “Cruise Director” what if what you TRULY LOVE is being on that flight deck ? I’ve already been all over the world as a pilot – what now putt around on a golf course and play with my balls while waiting for death ? No thanks !

        • Who are you attacking, Hugh? Both Sparky and I BOTH said if you wanna fly … fly … and age 67 was OK with us … but it wasn’t for either of us. Maybe your cognitive skills are diminishing as you age?

  5. Around 2006. ICAO studied pilot age, looking at 15,000 pilot years.
    They found no reason to have any age limit for pilots.
    In fact, they found that pilots over age 53, were unlikely to have a medical incident, and were actually safer.
    Those who were going to have a medical incident had been weeded out; the older pilots were proven healthy by time.
    It had been the intent of ICAO to remove all recommendations regarding age, but a certain ICAO member (not American) pushed the age “recommendation” and it was put in place.
    That member was from a third world country that has an age limit, and an extremely bad safety record.
    Many countries, including Canada have no age limit, and no age related issues.
    Congress mandated an age limit in the US; another example of Congress getting into issues they don’t understand.

    • Very true regarding the sudden incapacitation “incident peak” in the late 40s and into the 50s, and they often happen with virtually no predictability. Once you have made it past that hump there will generally be medical flags raised ahead of time.

  6. It’s incredible how much humility the Sparkies show despite being so much more enlightened than everyone else [eyeroll]. I’m a 54 year old WB Captain for one of the world’s oldest and most respected airlines. I own homes in Europe and the US, have a 401k balance with multiple commas (and not by a little bit), and have zero debt. I’m already down to two trips a month and will most likely narrow that down to one in my sixties. Why would/should I quit before I have to? If I notice a 3-day layovers in EZE or ATH in some future month’s bid package, why wouldn’t I bid one (essentially a company-paid vacation) and drop the rest of my schedule? I keep my health and travel benefits, maintain a professional hobby, and enjoy the comraderie of some of the world’s best crewmembers. Who is anyone to sniff at that setup and tell me what I should really do? Please…..

    • What’s that you’re saying. All I’m hearing is “ I got mine!” How did you get your left seat? Did it require someone retiring senior to you? Should the junior person be told to wait on buying their home in Europe until you’ve been fully satiated?

      Age related performance degradation is not unlike fatigue. By the time you recognize you are fatigued, it’s too late. So we have FAR 117 which sets limits to help with that, to dubious results. But they are there nonetheless. Could some pilots handle 18 hours on duty and 6 hours rest just to get a better monthly schedule? I’m sure a few would try and the airline would love them.
      Leave 65 in place and let the guys who want what 67 offers them negotiate it ( or at least try) into their contract.

      • United Airlines CURRENTLY has new hire pilots not even finished with basic indoctrination training and are HOLDING A CAPTAIN BID !!! Knock off the boo-hoo seniority bullsh*t !!!!

  7. Why can’t this be done in small increments over time like the social security full retirement age? There is so much actuarial data this isn’t really necessary but a creeping age cutoff would give time to generate the data showing the older pilots are as safe (or safer) than the younger ones so long as they pass the medical testing. It would be more to reduce people’s (regulators) fears than out of any real threat of problems due to pilots of an advanced age.

    • There might be an actual good reason why that doesn’t make sense, but I cannot think of it. OTOH, it’s pretty complicated for the midwits, and it won’t generate nearly enough donations to the grift industry.

  8. I for one do not really worry about what the age limit is for airline pilots, just like in GA, the insurance companies will eventually make it economically unfeasible to employ or insure any pilot past the age of 65. I assume most of the airlines are self insured with reinsurance for any large losses and will either increase the amount of liability the airline has to assume or increase the premiums to unsustainable levels. The congress critters will not have to waste any of their precious retirement job time on the subject.

  9. “Conduct research?” I’d bet the number of studies over the years on this age question would fill a good size arena. Know that’s hyperbole on my part but why on Earth is there a need MORE study on this subject?

  10. Go to United’s crew base in Houston and ask 100 captains where they get their flight physicals and I can guarantee at least 75 of them go to the same doctor. They all go to him for the same reason.

  11. Examples abound of different people having different lifespans and different health-spans. This is influenced by nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress, general lifestyle, and — to some extent — genetics. The “average” lifespan, which is skewed by infant mortality, is not an accurate predictor of an individual’s life or health expectancy. Even aircraft age at different rates depending upon how they are used and maintained, whether or not they’re hangared, etc. Judging a pilot’s airworthiness based on number of trips around the sun is ageist, arbitrary, and unrealistic.

    To be airworthy, a pilot of any age should have to pass not only the traditional FAA physical and check-ride, but, in addition, blood analysis, an exercise fitness test, a treadmill ECG, problem solving test(s), mental competency test, a reaction-time test, and maybe other relevant tests I haven’t thought of. (These non-aviation-specific tests should also be required of Presidential candidates.) Anyone who can pass all of these tests should be granted flying privileges regardless of chronological age, and that person’s retirement should be their choice, not age-mandated by some bureaucracy.

    • So your solution to an age-based regulation is more health-based “regulation”? That type of physical would probably require at least half a day, and then who would pay for all of those tests? And remember, if someone were to fail any of those tests, they would then be ineleigible for even basic VFR private-pilot flying because they would now have a “known” condition that would preclude any medical certificate. Compared to that, aging out of the airlines and being able to continue flying as a private pilot in one’s retirement years sounds like a better way to end.

    • Be careful what you wish for, you might get it! Every time the FAA has proposed changes in medical standards, AOPA and other groups scream bloody murder with the proposed changes rightfully dropped. Medical standards do not need to be changed, or increased/raised, period.

    • I agree with ” bdbsd@hotmail 100%.
      The present FAA class 1 physical is a joke.
      I’m 91(going on the new 60) & could still pass the current class 1.
      Retired USAF/ANG Fighter Pilot (retired 51 years) & retired WAL/DAL Capt. (retired 32 years).
      Mel Younker

  12. What if AI was adopted and airlines went to single pilot crew? The aspect of a sudden incapacitation of that single pilot sounds ominous. OTOH, sudden incapacitations at younger than age 65 seem to happen more often. I can’t believe any sane person would think single-pilot airline ops would be okay at any age.