Legislation sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) would raise the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67.
The Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act, which Graham and Roy plan to introduce in the coming days, will be aimed at alleviating the pilot shortage that is currently stifling U.S. airline growth and has taken its largest toll on regional air service.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Graham said that 14,000 U.S. commercial pilots will reach age 65 in the next four years. He also noted that the mandatory pilot retirement age was increased from 60 to 65 in 2007, over opposition from pilot unions.
“The sky did not fall by adjusting the age from 60 to 65 and it won’t fall by going to 67,” Graham said. “What will happen is giving the opportunity to thousands of pilots if they choose to stay in the cockpit, which makes it better for all of us depending on air travel.”
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Both Graham and Roy, who commented on the legislation in a Monday press release, said the pilot shortage has played a role in a surge of cancellations and delays this summer by U.S. carriers.
Their effort faces powerful opposition. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Allied Pilots Association (APA) issued statements in May registering their opposition to changing the mandatory retirement age for pilots. ALPA is the largest U.S pilots union and counts United among its pilot groups. The APA represents American Airlines pilots.
ALPA argues that there is currently an adequate supply of certified pilots in the U.S., and that any shortage of working commercial pilots is a manifestation of inadequate pay by regional airlines. Raising the retirement age would “introduce unnecessary risks to passengers and crew alike,” the union’s president Joe DePete said in May.
DOT secretary Pete Buttigieg also has come out against a retirement age increase, telling Fox News Sunday over the weekend that the retirement age is there for a reason. The solution to the pilot shortage, Buttigieg said, is to boost the incoming pilot pipeline.
Among the proposal’s supporters is the National Air Carrier Association, whose members include discount airlines, charter carriers and cargo airlines.
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