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When is being old too old?
Or, at what age does an aircrew member become a danger to him/herself and other people?
Or, how long is a piece of string?
A certain conundrum which demands many variables to be weighted before any accurate answer can be found.
Unfortunately, in the context of this subject I am not a physician and therefore cannot provide you with any accurate diagnosis of when you should hang up your headset or your helmet and goggles. However if like me, you are a pilot, we then share the same active interest in this topic.
Did you know that even in this new age of the Sport Pilot Rating, there are federal aviation rules in effect this very moment that arbitrarily prevent senior pilots from continuing their flying careers?
Maybe you know this because you are an Airline Pilot, or maybe you have heard about this requirement from an Airline Pilot that you know. Either way the next time that you are reading the Code of Federal Regulations fourteen (cfr 14), Federal Aviation Regulations (far) sections, take a look at cfr. 14, section far 121, subsection 383, paragraph c which reads:
No certificate holder may use the services of any person as a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under this part if that person has reached his 60th birthday. No person may serve as a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under this part if that person has reached his 60th birthday.
Okay so maybe you don't fly for the airlines, but maybe you do fly for a highly conservative corporate flight department, and the President of the Human Resources department at a cocktail party one evening learns how all airline pilots must retire at age 60. Unfortunately for you a light bulb has gone off in the head of Sir or Madam President and they wonder if this rule should apply to the company jet and all those that pilot it; namely you and your not quite so handsome colleagues. What might you do if you are faced with this situation?
Well to start with, as we have all learn't after putting many years of varied aviation industry experience under our respective hats and belts, it is better to be prepared for a problem, long before it even exists.
So what do we all need to know about this "age 60" rule?
First, it isn't just the FAA that likes the idea of mandatory forced retirement. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also has this requirement written into their rulebook. Additionally Europe's Joint Aviation Authority (JAA), the United Kingdom's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) along with virtually all of the other international government entities that exist to oversee aircraft operations, either quote the ICAO rule verbatim or have their own version written into their regulations. The ICAO rules are very comprehensive and detailed, however it is easy to forget they are only recommended standards. This is because the original purpose and function of the ICAO, which was formally established in 1947 as an agency of the United Nations, was to set forth a set of recommended standards for use by the worlds Air Carriers, i.e. Airlines. Their rule standards are not law, per see, but under a treaty signed by its member countries, including the United States, they can usually be considered binding, unless a member country elects to create its own unique legislation.
So why was the sixtieth birthday of a pilot chosen as the vital cut-off for Air Carrier flying?
As Mr. William J. White, Acting Director, Flight standards Service, put it in a recent official document on December 11, 1995, "The Age 60 Rule went into effect in 1959 because the FAA had series concerns that aging air carrier pilots were potentially a hazard to safety. These concerns were founded upon the fact that due to seniority, older pilots did (and still do) tend to fly the largest, highest-performance aircraft, carrying the greatest number of passengers over the longest non-stop distances, in the highest density traffic. While there is a progressive deterioration of certain important physiological and psychological functions with age, that significant medical defects attributable to this degenerative process occur at an increasing rate as age increases, and that sudden incapacity due to such medical defects becomes more frequent in any group reaching age 60. It also found that such incapacity, due primarily to heart attacks and strokes, cannot be predicted accurately as to any specific individual on the basis of presently available scientific tests and criteria. The FAA noted other factors, even less susceptible to precise measurement as to their effect but which must be considered in connection with safety in flight, result simply from aging alone and are, with some variations, applicable to all individuals.
These relate to loss of ability to perform highly skilled tasks rapidly, to resist fatigue, to maintain physical stamina, to perform effectively in a complex and stressful environment, to apply experience, judgment and reasoning rapidly in new, changing and emergency situations, and to learn new techniques, skills and procedures. While the FAA recognized that such losses generally start well before age 60, the agency determined that beyond age 59 the risks associated with these losses become unacceptable for pilots in part 121 operations."
How can you be affected by this airline pilot rule if you a charter pilot flying under cfr 14, far part 135, or a corporate pilot flying under cfr 14, far part 91?
Well you really can't be affected by it, unless you are unfortunate enough to have any one of three following scenarios happen to you:
- Your company, without allowing for your reasoned and balanced input, decides to a mandatory "cease flying for ABC Company at XX Years of Age."
- You make a trip abroad to a country that either interprets the ICAO rules in a literal sense and the officials of the country that you are visiting decide that you are in direct contravention of these or their own rules (I will get to this next.)
- You are not physically or mentally fit enough to continue your flying, regardless of what age you have reached.
Let's go back to scenario number 2. How can a foreign country impose upon you and force you to adhere to, a rule that only applies to Airline Pilots?
Well before this question can be answered, we must first look at what the ICAO rule states:
ICAO Annex 1:
2.1.10 Curtailment of privileges of pilots who have attained their 60th birthday.
22.214.171.124 A Contracting State, having issued pilot license, shall not permit the holders thereof to act as pilot-in-command of an aircraft engaged in scheduled international air services or non-scheduled international air transport operations for remuneration or hire if the license holders have attained their 60th birthday.
It also contains the following Recommended Practice:
126.96.36.199 Recommendation: A Contracting State, having issued pilot licenses, should not permit the holders thereof to act as co-pilot of an aircraft engaged in scheduled international air services or non-scheduled international air transport operations for remuneration or hire if the license holders have attained their 60th birthday.
Okay you say, "This rule, recommendation or whatever it is, still says 'Scheduled international air services' which I believe to mean the airlines, right? Therefore it can't apply to me."
Well yes you are correct, however you should never second guess or even attempt to apply logic in the case of where you are the guest in another country and are trying to conduct, safe and legal operations within their airspace. How you and the FAA interpret the ICAO rules, may be completely different than that of the host country. The ICAO rule also stated: ...shall not permit the holders thereof to act as pilot-in-command of an aircraft engaged in ... non-scheduled international air transport operations for remuneration or hire if the license holders have attained their 60th birthday. This is where you can get into trouble. Even though further investigation into the ICAO definitions does confirm that the intent behind these words really are meant to apply only to Air Carrier Operations, it is very easy for an over-zealous foreign aviation authority to overlook this and apply their own interpretation of this rule against you. Unless you own the aircraft that you are flying and you are flying purely for yourself, the chances are that you receive a paycheck for sitting in that cockpit of yours. There have been reports that some Italian aviation inspectors have attempted to go in this direction and consider you as a "paid" or remunerated license holder. To combat this, you may consider carrying a letter from your local FAA or your corporate council stating that your flight operations are "Not for, or on behalf of an international air carrier per cfr 14, far 121" and/or are either "in accordance with the Air Charter Rules of the United States of America"; or "in accordance with cfr 14, far part 91 as they apply to private air transportation of company executives."
Interestingly enough, this "age 60" rule has been under constant attack around the world. Southwest Airlines have been backing a legal action against our very own FAA rule here, and so far have failed to get the Supreme Court to hear their argument. Meanwhile the ICAO are reportedly considering the upping of the mandated/recommended age limit from 60 to 65, as there appears to be credible medical evidence to support this age limit increase. You can follow developments with this issue and find documents to support you in your fight against this rule if it is wrongly applied to you by visiting a very interesting site run by Mr. Samuel D. Woolsey. Mr. Woolsey is a "forced to retire" ex United Airlines pilot, who upon reaching the age of 60, went out to get his law degree to aid him in his own personal crusade and legal contest of the age 60 rule. His site is accessible at http://www.age60rule.com/
With all of this said, how do you look and do you feel today?
What am I trying to get at here?
Well as one pilot recently put it publicly on the member only message board at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) regarding this very topic, after he reflected over his 40 year flying career.. "I've seen professional pilots who should have retired when they were 50. Others who were pretty worthless at 35, and others who were sharp as a tack a 59 + 364 days, and beyond. The weeding out process should work at any age, and not depend on reaching a specific birthday". I.e. Your flying career not only depends upon you staying healthy enough to pass your Annual, Bi-Annual or Tri-Annual Pilot Medical Exam, it also depends upon you fighting the ageing process as long as you can.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Have you had any problems while flying outside of the USA?
Are you over 60 and are still flying?
Any input that you care to make regarding the above questions or any other aspect of this issue not covered by this article, will be of great interest to all of the readers here at Globalair.com. So please don't be bashful and go ahead and write your comments here.