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Members of Congress introduced legislation to address widespread flight cancellations by raising the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67.
More than 3,000 cancellations met passengers in a period of just two days last month as a bout of extreme weather hit the eastern United States, while more than 1,800 cancellations occurred during the Fourth of July holiday weekend. According to the office of Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), the United States will lack 12,000 pilots by 2023, even as 14,000 pilots will be forced to leave the workforce over the next five years because of a federal law mandating that airline pilots retire by 65 years old, per a study by consulting group Oliver Wyman.
As a result, Roy proposed the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act — a bill that would raise the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67.
“Following the heavy-handed stupidity of government lockdowns, travel demand has naturally skyrocketed. However, Americans are now experiencing flight delays and cancellations on an unacceptable scale due to a worsening pilot shortage,” Roy argued. “A key factor is a government-mandated retirement age that forces out thousands of our most qualified pilots every year.”
When recently asked about the legislation amid reports that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was preparing such a proposal, Transportation Secretary Pete 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 told Fox News host Mike Emanuel. “Now, what’s clearly the case is we need to cultivate, train, and support a new generation of qualified pilots.”
Yet airlines have also considered slashing training requirements in response to the shortage. Delta said in January that it would introduce signing bonuses and increase pay while removing the requirement for the completion of a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, Republic Airways — a regional carrier for Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines — sought government permission to cut the number of training hours from 1,500 to 750 for its new pilots.
“The answer is not to keep the Baby Boomer generation in the cockpit indefinitely,” Buttigieg 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 grown increasingly desperate to deal with travel disruptions. Over Independence Day weekend, Delta customers were able to rebook trips made between July 1 and July 4 without a fee, provided they travel between the same origin and destination. According to the company, waivers are typically granted only due to weather events that cause widespread changes to flight schedules.
“We’ve got to get more people in the queue to be pilots, but we also have to adjust our age in a reasonable, rational way to keep people in the cockpit,” Graham said at a news conference Monday, per CNBC. “Other countries allow people to fly to 67 and beyond. And I am confident that this is a bipartisan issue.”