GREENVILLE, S.C. (WCBD) – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and fellow lawmakers are set to introduce legislation aimed at increasing the mandatory pilot retirement age.
The “Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act” would raise the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67. It would also require pilots over 65 to maintain a first-class medical certification, which must be renewed every six months.
The bill comes at a time when airlines are struggling to maintain pilots and keep flights on track.
“With baby boomers making up half of the airline pilot population, roughly 5,000 fully qualified pilots are being forced to retire each year,” Sen. Graham said. “The wave of forced pilot retirements continues even as hundreds of flights are being canceled due to a shortage of available pilots and crews.”
The retirement age for pilots in the United States was raised from 60 to 65 in 2007 after medical reports concluded age had an “insignificant impact” on performance in the cockpit, and there were safety precautions already in place to prevent accidents in case of incapacitation.
Sen. Graham said this legislation does not change or alter any other qualification beyond the age to become a commercial airline pilot.
Under the bill, air carriers must continue using pilot training and qualification programs approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Cancellations and delays, meanwhile, are increasing in frequency as air travel in the U.S. returns to — and in some cases exceeds — pre-pandemic levels. Major airlines have also increased their efforts to hire and train new pilots to replace those that retired during the earlier stages of pandemic, when demand for air travel was at its lowest points.
Sen. Graham said he hopes the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act will draw bipartisan support, though Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had already expressed concern over the idea earlier this month.
During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Buttigieg said the answer to the pilot shortage is not to keep the “Baby Boomer generation in the cockpit indefinitely,” but to attract new pilots to the commercial aviation field.
“These retirement ages are there for a reason, and the reason is safety,” Buttigieg said. “I’m not going to be on board with anything that could compromise safety.”
The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 65,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada, also opposes the act.
“This legislation is yet another attempt to distract the conversation from the real issue, which is that some U.S. airlines have clearly failed to plan for the industry’s comeback that we are experiencing today,” said Capt. Joe DePete, the president of ALPA, in a statement issued Monday. “ALPA strongly opposes this proposed legislation, as there is no reason to change the retirement age and doing so would only increase costs for airlines and introduce unnecessary risks to passengers and crew alike.”