It’s no secret that the airline industry in the U.S. is facing a pilot shortage. Many solutions have been proposed to fix the issue, including reducing the number of pilot training hours and increasing investment in educational programs for young adults. But, one of the biggest proposals working its way through the regulatory machine right now is an amendment to raise the pilot retirement age. Whether you’re considering a career as a pilot, or are currently a pilot, this will likely have huge implications throughout the aviation industry.
So, if you’re wondering if the government and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will raise the pilot retirement age in order to fight the pilot shortage, here are a few insights we can share – let’s take a look.
What Is The Pilot Shortage?
If you’re wondering if the FAA will raise the pilot retirement age, you may be aware of a huge issue affecting the aviation industry right now: the pilot shortage. This refers to the fact that the U.S. is in need of thousands of pilots to fill out demand at airlines. And unfortunately, the problem is only getting worse – for several reasons, including:
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 changed the airline industry almost overnight. With a huge drop in the flying population, airlines were giving generous retirement packages to many pilots who weren’t even at the appropriate retirement age of 65. The effects are still being felt in 2023 and beyond, but will hopefully be curbed with new investments from government agencies and commercial airlines.
The baby boomer generation will see about 10,000 individuals hit retirement age every single day through the next decade, and after 2030, most boomers will be retired. In fact, a report from NBC News says that by 2029, no one from the boomer generation will be able to legally fly a commercial aircraft as the law stands right now. Additionally, because of the extensive experience required for an airline position and a decrease in military recruits coming into the industry, there aren’t as many people to replace these retiring boomers.
Pilot Contract Negotiations
As airlines in the U.S. continue to see increased profits, pilots are demanding larger salaries and better benefits. As such, airlines are being forced to renegotiate existing contracts and divert funding from educating new pilots. The industry is still trying to work out contracts, with American Airlines and United Airlines recently rejecting proposed salary increases, while Alaska Airlines ratified a new contract last month that gave many pilots an instant 20 percent raise.
Time & Resource For Flight Training
It takes time and money in order to become a pilot, and it’s become more prohibitive for just anyone to try flying as a hobby or career. The cost of becoming commercially licensed adds up to thousands of dollars over hundreds of hours of training time, making it a barrier to entry for many young adults. But, better late than never, there have been recent efforts by domestic airlines like American and Delta to recruit students with no experience and turn them into competent pilots. But, it will still be several years before these students are ready to fly commercially, so only time will tell if their efforts are successful.
What Is Congress Doing To Address The Pilot Shortage?
Several U.S. Senators introduced the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act, in July of 2022. The point of this law is to raise the retirement age for pilots engaged in commercial aviation operations.
If the law is amended, you can expect the aviation industry to change in a major way – a pilot will be able to work in multi-crew covered operations as pilot-in-command or co-pilot, for an extra two years. This will ultimately increase the pilot retirement age from age 65 to 67. This will certainly have much further-reaching implications after we scratch below the surface.
Will The FAA Raise The Pilot Retirement Age?
While the law has been proposed to raise the commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67, there doesn’t appear to be any movement on it in this congressional session. Additionally, Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttiegeg has been quoted saying that he doesn’t want to compromise safety of commercial flights by raising the age and that he supports the FAA’s high school and university programs to encourage student involvement in the aviation industry.
Should The FAA Raise The Pilot Retirement Age?
Will they raise the age requirements to 67 and should they raise it are two distinct questions. This is because there are some drawbacks to changing the required pilot retirement age.
First, and most obvious, are the medical issues that naturally affect older pilots. And, when flying, even common problems like cardiac irregularities or blood pressure spikes can put everyone’s life in danger. Additionally, there’s the issue of medical benefits paid for by employers, and airlines not wanting to foot the bill for expensive elective surgeries and large amounts of paid time off for older employees.
Beyond this, there’s another big problem in that only a handful of other countries allow commercial pilots to fly at an age older than 65. Airlines would have difficulty navigating this issue when a portion of their employees aren’t able to perform basic international routes. This will also require older pilots to return to domestic narrow-body airplanes, versus the easier-to-fly wide-body counterpart normally reserved for international flights.
So, as of now, it seems as though the FAA will hold off on raising the pilot retirement age. They appear to be targeting a long-term solution that puts younger students on a fast track to a career with the airlines. As evidenced by government programs and investments made by major and regional airlines, hopefully the pilot shortage can be averted before it’s too late.