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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced new investigations into airline companies on Sunday but rejected the possibility of raising the mandatory retirement age for pilots amid persistent labor shortages.
During an interview with Fox News, Buttigieg told host Mike Emanuel that his agency has “just concluded another ten investigations on airlines” with respect to delayed and canceled flights, but has also “launched another ten or so that we’re going to pursue to make sure that the consumers and passengers are protected.”
Indeed, more than 3,000 cancellations met passengers in June as a bout of extreme weather hit the Eastern seaboard; Buttigieg, therefore, asked executives to work on avoiding cancellations during Fourth of July travel. Yet more than 1,800 cancellations occurred during the holiday weekend.
In 2007, Congress raised the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from 60 to 65. Emanuel asked Buttigieg whether he would consider raising the age to 67 — a proposal that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is reportedly preparing. Buttigieg responded negatively.
“These retirement ages are there for a reason, and the reason is safety. I’m not going to be on board with anything that could compromise safety,” he replied. “Now, what’s clearly the case is we need to cultivate, train, and support a new generation of qualified pilots.”
As the number of air passengers plummeted in 2020 due to the spread of COVID, several airlines offered early retirement packages to their employees. Airlines are now attempting to hire more than 12,000 pilots, according to NBC News, as roughly 5,800 pilots are reaching the age of 65 each year. In response, Buttigieg continued to stress the need to train younger aviators.
“The answer is not to keep the Baby Boomer generation in the cockpit indefinitely,” he continued. “The answer is to make sure we have as many and as good pilots ready to take their place, to have a stronger pipeline. We’re backing that up with FAA programs that support high school and college curriculum to get into aviation, and of course, ultimately, it’ll be for the airlines and those employers to hire and retain excellent talent.”
Airlines have also considered decreasing training requirements in response to the shortage. Delta said in January that it would introduce signing bonuses and hike pay while removing the requirement for the completion of a bachelor’s degree.
“‘While we feel as strongly as ever about the importance of education, there are highly qualified candidates — people who we would want to welcome to our Delta family — who have gained more than the equivalent of a college education through years of life and leadership experience,” the airline announced. “Making the four-year degree requirement preferred removes unintentional barriers to our Delta flight decks.’”
Meanwhile, Republic Airways — a regional carrier for Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines — sought government permission in April to cut the required number of training hours from 1,500 to 750 for its new pilots.
In the broader economy, the labor force participation rate — the percentage of people who either have a job or are actively looking for one — continues to lag behind pre-recession levels.
“‘There are 755,000 fewer Americans employed today than prior to the pandemic, even as the population age 16 and over has increased by 4.2 million,’” Heritage Foundation research fellow and former U.S. Joint Economic Committee senior economist Rachel Greszler said in a statement provided to The Daily Wire last week. “‘This has caused massive struggles for employers and is directly contributing to inflation, as employers have to pay workers more to do the exact same work they were doing before.’”