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The scheduled witnesses are:
Statement - Senator Conrad Burns
Thank you for joining us today. I welcome our panel of witnesses, along with Sen. Inhofe and Congressman Gibbons who have been leaders on this issue for many years.
Today we are conducting a hearing on the controversial FAA Age 60 Rule. It is our intent to revisit this issue because of the substantial changes in the aviation industry and because of the financial struggles many of the carriers are going through. Those struggles have adversely affected many pilots. With pensions posing significant problems it might be time to take a serious look at altering this rule.
Since 1960, federal regulations have specified that individuals age 60 and older may not serve as airline pilots on any commercial flight operations. The FAA adopted, what is commonly referred to as, the “Age 60 Rule” in 1959 because of concerns that a hazard to safety was presented by aging pilots in air carrier operations.
Over the years there have been several attempts to challenge the rule but to date, no pilot has ever been granted an exemption and no federal court has ruled in favor of changing the rule. Based on this history, it is evident that any change or modification to the rule will likely require congressional action.
The Subcommittee is very aware of the emotion attached to this issue for many pilots. In light of the current financial condition of the airlines and the continuing pension problems I think it is important we revisit this issue.
On today’s panel we will hear medical testimony along with varied pilots opinions and experience with the rule. As with any aviation issue, safety is of the utmost concern, but safety should also be based on facts and not arbitrary or subjective dynamics. I welcome the panels and look forward to the testimony.
Senator Stevens Questions and Answers
Round One of Witness Q&A
Chairman Stevens: I am a little disturbed by that last comment. I didn’t understand that. You let the first pilot come in if he’s over 65, but don’t you let a co-pilot come in who is over 65?
Dr. Jordan: Well the current rule, the current ICAO (International Civil Aeronautics Organization) rule provides the pilot in command must be under age 60. It’s a recommend practice that the first officer be under age 60. And, because it’s a recommended practice the agency does permit pilots to come into the country who are over age 60, but the pilot in command has to be under age 60. It’s enforced by the agency.
Chairman Stevens: You do the same thing for Britain?
Dr. Jordan: Yes, sir.
Chairman Stevens: Is there any country that has an age limit that you do not accept?
Dr. Jordan: Would you repeat that, Senator?
Chairman Stevens: Is there any country that has an age limit, I take it, it would be over 65, that you do not accept? Are there any in civil aviation that are over 65?
Dr. Jordan: Well, the rules would apply equally no matter who, what carrier flies for, the country that they fly for. It’s going to be applied evenly across the board.
Chairman Stevens: Did I hear you express reservation about those who are over 60 having qualifications to fly?
Dr. Jordan: The age 60 rule is somewhat arbitrary or discretionary rule and I think there are those individuals who are probably okay. The problem is in determining who is and who is not right for flying over age 60.
Chairman Stevens: I’m 82 this year and I think I’m in better shape than I was when I was 60. I can run faster, play better tennis, swim better, am in better shape, weigh 25 pounds less. Aren’t the factors you’re talking about related to overall health rather than age?
Dr. Jordan: It would be preferable to do that but I know of no protocol that could be used to make those kinds of distinctions.
Chairman Stevens: But what I’m saying is, those who you are talking about in terms of being questionable over 60, don’t they have other health factors other than age that would lead them to be disqualified?
Dr. Jordan: I’m not sure I follow the question, Senator. Could you rephrase that?
Chairman Stevens: You’re questioning anyone over 60 being healthy enough to fly, aren’t you?
Dr. Jordan: I still am having a little trouble understanding. You said people over age 60 are healthy enough to fly?
Chairman Stevens: My understanding of what you testified is that those over 60 have some question as to whether they should be allowed to fly. Am I misunderstanding you?
Dr. Jordan: No, I think that is correct. You know I think anybody over age 60 the problem is that we’re unable to sort out those who might be healthy enough to fly from those who are not.
Chairman Stevens: And my question to you is is that age-related or health-related over 60?
Dr. Jordan: Well it’s the age 60 rule so it’s age-related.
Chairman Stevens: I’m asking you as a doctor. Forget about the rule. People over 60 – are you saying they tend to be unhealthy so that they shouldn’t be able to fly as a commercial pilot.
Dr. Jordan: I think the problem is knowing who can and who should not fly over age 60.
Chairman Stevens: It seems to me what you’re saying is that the rule is the rule and you are going to support the rule. I am asking you as a doctor, whether you believe in that rule.
Dr. Jordan: I believe there has to be some arbitrary age limit for pilots, whether or not it be age 60 or 63 or 65 or 55, I think is a matter of discretion.
Chairman Stevens: Thank you.
Round Two of Witness Q&A
Chairman Stevens: Both Dr. Jordan and Dr. Raymond, here’s my problem. I come from a state where there are very few buses, or roads. Over 75 percent of our towns, cities and villages can be reached only by air. We have 121 planes. They’re subject to the 60-year rule. 135 are not. There’s no limit at all on being a commercial pilot on a 135. Now they’re flying to the same places. Along comes the FAA and says “we want you to help us transition the 135s into 121s because they are safer.” It is safer to fly 121s. And we’re doing that. The Postal Service, too, asked us to do that. Of the 10,000 pilots in my State there are 750 of them that are truly commercial in the sense of being multi-engine commercial operators (see beginning of round three q&a for correction to this statistic). Fifty percent of them are over 55. Fifty percent of all pilots in Alaska are over 55. And the bulk of the aircraft are owned by people doing some type of commercial work. I don’t understand a rule that says pretty soon we’re not going to have enough pilots to fly our planes. And I’m trying to find out what the justification is for FAA to keep this rule on us at the same time that they are telling us “try to move your people out of the 135 operations into 121.” Have you ever done any studies of those people who are flying the 135s that are over aged and determine whether the accident records were related to age or other medical conditions?
Dr. Jordan: Yes, sir. Several studies have been done. The results of those studies are somewhat conflicting. Studies done by the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City would tend to indicate the accident rate does increase in those operations based upon age. There is at least one outside study that I’m aware of that would tend to indicate that the accident rate does not increase with age for those pilots. Those studies vary because of cohorts that are used in determining how the research should proceed. Factors related to what licenses the airmen hold, the classes of medical certificates, and precisely what operations they are involved in. And I think that has led to a great deal of confusion in terms of whether there is an increase in accidents in that population. I think that overall that there probably is.
Chairman Stevens: Well the 135 pilots and 121 pilots take the same physical for commercial operations?
Dr. Jordan: Yes they do, but they are involved in different operations.
Chairman Stevens: That's my point, too. The aircraft of the 135 may not be as safe and as modern as the 121s are. And we are trying to transition there, but as we transition there, we got a 60-year age limit. We are going to lose 50 percent of our pilots because they are over 55 within five years. I think this bill means a great deal more to my state than anyone else. What would it take to get some type of studies that you all would rely on in terms of determining whether this rule makes total sense from a medical point of view?
Dr. Jordan: Well, over the years a number of studies have been done, but they don't seem to provide us the answers that we need to make those changes.
Chairman Stevens: What are the questions that you don't have the answers to?
Dr. Jordan: Well, the questions we don't have the answers to are in relationship to accidents I think in those particular operations, the part 121 operations. And this is largely an outgrowth of the rule in itself because we don't permit individuals for flying those operations after age 60. So, you have to use surrogate data, which are data from air taxi operations, private operations, and those data have been used in the past. And, unfortunately, by and large most of those studies have indicated that accidents do increase with age, and age 60 seems to be the break point.
Chairman Stevens: Then why don't you apply it to 135 planes that carry people commercially?
Dr. Jordan: We do apply it to part 135 operations being and operated under part 121 rules, which include aircraft of 10 or more seats. All of those operations flying under part 121 rules, they have subjected to the age 60 rule. But the smaller operations the age limits do not apply. I think it's a matter of where you draw the line.
Chairman Stevens: Is that more than 9 seats you mean?
Dr. Jordan: Yes.
Chairman Stevens: Well, no offense, but this is a conundrum. Ten years ago, or even longer ago, I remember sitting at this table with Barry Goldwater with a similar hearing back when he was here. It didn't have the pressure on us now in Alaska than it does now because our pilots are aging and they are not coming up to fly the way they used to in terms of younger pilots coming into Alaska for these operations. I think something has to be done. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Round Three of Witness Q&A
Chairman Stevens: For the record, I said that there were 750 of our 10,000 that were commercial and over 55; it's 2,000. Two thousand of our 10,000 pilots are commercial and over 55. It is a difficult problem for us. Let me just ask each of you this. You mentioned a series of polls that were taken. Do you know the average age those people you polled? Captain Woerth, do you know?
Captain Woerth: I don't have the age of the poll or the average age or the median age of the entire pilot group. I could probably ascertain that for you.
Chairman Stevens: Do you have anything that relates age to the polls?
Captain Woerth: Throughout the polling process, especially as to the random telephone poll, was randomly stratified to take out sampling error that was biased one way or other. As to the survey, any time you do a survey it's voluntary, and we had high participants, particularly over age 56. So we actually had more people older participating for their own interest, which you expect in a democratic organization.
Chairman Stevens: How about you, Mr. Eichelkraut?
Mr. Eichelkraut: I don't have the exact number, sir, but I would believe it's around 45 or 46 years old was the average age of the respondent.
Chairman Stevens: Captain Hunter?
Captain Hunter: I don't have the breakout sir. The last poll we did was a...
Chairman Stevens: Captain Spain?
Captain Spain: In all of our polls with the pilots we’ve had about an 80 percent response and of the thousand pilots we have the average is, I believe, it’s 48.
Chairman Stevens: Captain Hunter, you mention in your letter to us that a sizable number of these people are furloughed at the present time. How great is that number?
Captain Hunter: We are sitting at just under 3,000 pilots on furlough from American Airlines.
Chairman Stevens: Do you know, Captain Woerth, what the furlough rate is for your organization?
Captain Woerth: A little over 5,000 members of Alpha are furloughed.
Chairman Stevens: Okay. And pilot fatigue, it's you that mentioned it, Captain Hunter?
Captain Hunter: I believe that was Captain Woerth that testified.
Chairman Stevens: You Captain Woerth. You are saying that we have ignored it? Ignored that issue?
Captain Woerth: No, I'm saying that the Federal Aviation Administration had put forward some notice proposed rule-making almost 10 years ago because it was recognized they had NASA studies that they thought the flight time and duty time regulations, particularly as to the length of the duty-day, were antiquated and needed revisions based on a study by NASA. Nothing has really come of that in almost 10 years and what I was referring to is that it wasn't just pay concessions that pilots have been taking; a lot of their work rules, that frankly were better that the FAA’s, have been mitigated. And so many of our pilots, many of those in the room today, are flying more hours, longer hours, and longer duty days. I certainly think the struggle we have had even maintaining the minimal standards, such as the 16-hour rule, which we have a tremendous fight with in and around the FAA, 16 hours, those kind of hours, which are becoming more and more routine, not the exception, are adding to pilot fatigue. So, no matter what the age, this isn't just a function of, "I'm 57, I feel a little more tired than I did when I was 35.” But, this is an issue even for a 35-year old. I think fatigue needs to be looked at by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Chairman Stevens: Well, I flew transports in World War II and I'll tell you fatigue worries me a hell of a lot more than age does. I'd be very pleased to work with you on the fatigue thing and see if we can't get someone really to take a good long look at that. That is more dangerous to any passenger in my opinion than age. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Jim GibbonsUnited States Congressman2nd District of Nevada
Remarks before the Senate Commerce Aviation Subcommittee
U.S. Congressman Jim Gibbons (NV-02)
July 19th, 2005
Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you and ranking member Rockefeller for inviting me to speak on an issue that is very near and dear to me personally and to millions of current and future commercial airline pilots. I worked as a commercial airline pilot for over 17 years and just recently, I reached the age of 60. I am outraged at the blatant age discrimination that continues to be perpetrated by the FAA. Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the AARP agree that the Age 60 Rule is a biased, unfair regulation that effectively deprives the flying public of some of the best pilots that our country has to offer. Senator Inhofe and I have worked for several Congresses to pass legislation that will extend the mandatory pilot retirement age beyond 60. In the current Congress, our legislation would repeal that rule and allow pilots to remain in the cockpit until they reach the age at which they can receive their full Social Security retirement benefits. This comes down to basic fairness. Current FAA regulations require commercial airline pilots to leave the cockpit five years before most are even eligible to receive the Social Security benefits that they are entitled to. These pilots are only asking that they be able to continue to work in the field that they have trained for and worked in their whole lives until they can get their Social Security benefits. I certainly do not think that this is too much to ask. Especially since there is absolutely no proof to show that a pilot is any less capable at age 59 than they are at age 60. In fact, several studies have shown that older pilots have better safety records than their younger colleagues and that pilots 60 years or older tend to be healthier than their cohorts in the population at large. In addition, 65-year-old pilots would still have to go through the same rigorous testing and training that 25-year-old pilots do. This includes flight physicals twice a year and an EKG heart test every year. Unsafe pilots will be detected and relieved of duty, no matter what age, and safe pilots should be allowed to continue to fly, period. The FAA’s Age 60 Rule is an ancient relic of a bygone era in which one airline, seeking relief from a labor dispute, curried political favor and forced the implementation of a rule which served to shove its older pilots out of their jobs. It is time for this rule to be overturned and for the United States to provide the same opportunities as most industrialized nations. We can look overseas and in the sky right above our very heads for proof that this rule is outdated and serves no safety purpose whatsoever. Over 50 countries allow their commercial airline pilots to fly past the age of 60, including Canada, Australia, Israel, Japan, and 31 European countries. Furthermore, the FAA allows these foreign pilots to fly into and over our country. On top of that, the FAA’s own pilots are allowed to fly past their 60th birthday. If foreign and FAA pilots are good enough to fly the friendly skies past their 60th birthday, than our own commercial pilots should be able to do so as well. In closing, I want to reiterate that my legislation, H.R. 65, and Senator Inhofe’s bill S. 65, do not in any way require pilots to work past the age of 60 or require airlines to rehire any pilot that had to retire already due to the rule. Our bills simply bring fairness to our pilots by closing the gap between their forced retirement and their ability to collect Social Security. In a time of failing pensions and soaring passenger numbers, we only want to allow our pilots to provide for their families and retire with dignity. Again, I thank the chairman and ranking member for allowing me to speak to your committee today and it is my hope that we can repeal this discriminatory rule as soon as possible.
The Honorable James M. InhofeUnited States SenatorOklahoma
Testimony of Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla)
Aviation Subcommittee Hearing on the FAA's Age 60 Rule
July 19, 2005
I ask that my statement be submitted into the Record. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I want to thank you for the opportunity to make some brief remarks on an issue very near and dear to my heart…the FAA’s Age 60 Rule. Mr. Chairman, I especially want to thank you and Chairman Stevens of the Full Committee for joining me as original cosponsors of S. 65, which would put an end to the arbitrary Age 60 Rule once and for all. I also want to thank my colleague, Jim Gibbons, of Nevada, for offering the identical bill in the House. I am 70 years old and I can tell you today that I’m the best pilot I’ve ever been. It is my firm belief that there should be no age limit at all for commercial airline pilots, given the current medical criteria we have in place, as well as the hundreds of thousands of “man-years” of safe flying experience by pilots over age 60 around the world Our neighbors to the north in Canada have no age restriction—is there anything inherently healthier about Canadian pilots? The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) stated in a recent report that there is no medical evidence to support an age restriction above 60 and has recommended that member states with an age restriction raise the maximum retirement age to 65. Only 25 countries have an age limit of 60 or less, the United States and France are the only developed nations with limits that low. I understand political realities will dictate that we will end up with some kind of age limitation, but it is critical that the limit at least meet our current national retirement age of 65 in order to close the gap in benefits that exists for a growing number of our most experienced airline pilots. The news is full of reports of airline pension funds being terminated and turned over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). The legislation introduced by Congressman Gibbons and me will help alleviate this burden on the taxpayers and the airlines. I also want to say that AARP supports our efforts—they believe like I do, that this is blatant age discrimination. In a May 20th letter to me AARP stated: “AARP is pleased to support…S. 65. The bill is an important step in recognizing that pilots should be judged on the basis of their individual ability and flying skills…AARP has long opposed the Federal Aviation Administration’s arbitrary rule requiring airline pilots to retire at age 60…” I couldn’t agree more—the FAA’s Age 60 Rule IS arbitrary. It was a political decision based on a labor disagreement—it has no basis in medical science and I think you will hear testimony today from the Aerospace Medical Association that backs me up. Not only is the Rule arbitrary, it was implemented in 1960 when life expectancies were much lower—just over 69 ½ years—today they are much higher at just over 77 years. Times were different when this Rule took effect—the Social Security retirement age was 65 and many people retired at that age because it was considered much older than it is now. Today, people often work well past 65—many people in the Senate are past age 65, including myself—these later years working can be the prime of a person’s career. As a matter of fact, since the implementation of the Age 60 Rule, numerous studies have shown that pilots over 60 are as safe—if not more safe—than their younger counterparts. I’m sure some of the pilots testifying today will tell you that there are strict medical and proficiency tests already in place to ensure only the most qualified pilots are flying commercially. Mr. Chairman, we need this legislation to allow our most experienced pilots to keep flying—those who have proven their skills over many years. I look forward to working with you, Chairman Stevens and the Members of this Committee to move legislation to end the FAA’s Age 60 Rule onto the floor of the Senate and to the President’s desk and ask that you use S. 65 as a vehicle to do so. Please view our archived webcast of this hearing for Senator Inhofe's complete statement as delivered
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Russell B. Rayman, M.D.Executive DirectorAerospace Medical Association
AEROSPACE MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
FOR THE HEARING RECORD
TO THE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
The Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) appreciates the opportunity to submit this statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on the important issue of the Age-60 Rule for air transport pilots. I am Dr. Russell B. Rayman, Executive Director of the Aerospace Medical Association, representing approximately 3,100 physicians, scientists, and flight nurses engaged in the practice of aerospace medicine or related research. THE AGE-60 RULE The Age-60 Rule, implemented by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1959, does not allow persons engaged in operations conducted under Part 121 of the Federal Regulations to serve as a pilot or copilot on reaching their 60th birthday. The Rule was implemented under the premise that the risk of incapacitation due to medical causes after 60 years of age was unacceptably high. Is there evidence that this is true for air transport pilots and is there evidence that aging causes a significant performance decrement in the cockpit? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to either of these questions the reason being that there are no studies of air transport pilots who are beyond 60 years of age simply because none have ever been certified by the FAA. To answer these questions with reasonable certitude, it would be necessary to study a cohort of air transport pilots who are over age 60 and to compare them with a cohort of air transport pilots below age 60. Since this cannot be done today, the only alternative is to study cohorts of general aviation and commercial pilots, both categories having no age limits. And indeed, a number of such studies have been accomplished and published in the literature. However, the conclusions of these studies are vexing in their inconsistencies and contradictions. Hence, they do not provide convincing evidence to support or refute the Age-60 Rule. In any event, the validity of these studies comes into question if we attempt to extrapolate the findings derived from general aviation and commercial pilots to air transport pilots because of significant differences in aircraft and operations – this represents a significant flaw. We believe that some pilots beyond age 60 could continue to fly without an added risk to flying safety. The challenge is to determine which ones could be safely certified and which ones should be retired. To resolve this dichotomy, studies would have to be designed to determine if and what medical tests might be added to the current FAA flight medical examination as a means of monitoring the health of the older pilot. Additional studies would also be needed to determine how older pilots might be tested for significant performance decrement in the cockpit. Such a study would be daunting in terms of scientific design and costs and most likely would take years to accomplish. In the meanwhile, we would suggest that selected pilots be certified to an arbitrary age beyond age 60 and closely monitored. Although medical sudden incapacitation is always a possibility (at any age), we believe it is a vanishingly small risk. Even if there were such an occurrence, there is always a second pilot in the cockpit. It might also be added that there has never been a US air carrier accident due to medical causes. And finally, there are about 30 countries that permit air transport pilots to continue flying beyond age 60. And to our knowledge, there has been no adverse effect upon flying safety. CONCLUSION On review of the existing evidence, the Aerospace Medical Association concludes there is insufficient medical evidence to support restriction of pilot certification based on age alone. Although studies could be designed to determine which pilots could be certified to safely fly beyond age 60, they would be difficult to design and would be costly. In the meanwhile, we would recommend that selected pilots be certified to fly beyond age 60 and closely monitored.
Mr. Jon L. Jordan, M.D.Federal Flight Surgeon, Office of Aerospace MedicineFederal Aviation Administration
STATEMENT OF JON L. JORDAN, M.D., FEDERAL AIR SURGEON,
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
ON THE FAA’S AGE 60 COMMERCIAL PILOT RULE
JULY 19, 2005
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: I would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Age-60 rule, which provides that a pilot may not engage in what are known as part 121 operations if the pilot has reached his 60th birthday. Part 121 covers operations of large commercial passenger aircraft, smaller propeller aircraft with 10 or more passenger seats, and common carriage operations of all-cargo aircraft with a payload capacity of 7500 pounds. I am accompanied today by my colleague, Jim Ballough, Director of FAA’s Flight Standards Service. The Age-60 rule represents the FAA's best determination of the time when a general decline in health-related functions and overall cognitive and performance capabilities may begin and reach a level where a pilot's judgement and physical ability may begin to decline and therefore jeopardize safety. Our rule means that a pilot who reaches age 60 must leave part 121 operations, but it does not mean that he or she can no longer play an important role in aviation. Many pilots continue to work for part 121 airlines in the screening, recruitment and training of pilot applicants, serve as flight engineers, or fly in non-part 121 operations, or become flight instructors, or, fortunately for us, work as safety inspectors for the FAA. Since its adoption in 1959, the FAA has reviewed the Age-60 rule several times to determine whether new and sufficient evidence exists to warrant a reconsideration of the regulation. The FAA has also successfully defended the rule in several administrative and judicial challenges. FAA has conducted five studies on the relationship of pilot age to accidents between 1999 and 2004. The first four studies were conducted at the direction of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which requested in 1999 that the FAA study and provide data regarding relative accident rates based on pilot age. The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) conducted a four-part study. The four studies were as follows: 1) an annotated bibliography of the scientific literature (1990-1999); 2) a re-analysis of the Chicago Tribune study data (1999) relating pilot age and accident rates; 3) an empirical analysis of accident rates by pilot age for professional pilots holding Air Transport Pilot (ATP) and Class 1 medical certificates between 1988 and 1997; and, 4) an empirical analysis of accident rates by pilot age for professional pilots holding ATP or Commercial Pilot and Class 1 or Class 2 medical certificates between 1988 and 1997. Certain aspects of the analytic methodology used in the third and fourth studies were criticized in the open scientific literature. In response, the first author for those studies, Dr. Dana Broach of CAMI, re-analyzed the accident rate data. That study was published in 2004. The 2004 study used more restrictive criteria to select which accidents to include in the analysis than were used in the previous studies. Taken together, the criteria resulted in an “apples-to-apples” comparison of accident rates for pilots age 60-63 and younger pilots in that the accident and non-accident pilots had the same credentials, worked for the same employers, and operated complex, multi-engine commuter or larger aircraft now covered by Part 121. As in the previous studies, the data were aggregated by age group (in five-year increments) and year, and analyzed with the same statistical technique. The results of the 2004 study were similar to those reported in the third and fourth empirical studies previously reported to Congress. Overall, accident rate increased with pilot age. The patterns of findings across the three empirical studies are similar – there appears to be a relationship between pilot age and accident rate. The consistency of this finding across the three empirical studies suggests that changes to the Age 60 rule should be approached cautiously. I must emphasize that before making any change to a safety rule, the FAA must be satisfied that the regulation will maintain or raise the current level of safety. What is clear to us from reviewing public comments and relevant literature concerning the Age-60 rule is that there is no single "right answer." What is also clear is that the question for the FAA is one of public safety and determining acceptable risk. At this time, the FAA cannot be assured that changing the Age-60 rule will maintain or raise the level of safety. At some age, every individual reaches a level of increased infirmity leading to decreased reliability. That age will vary from person to person but cannot yet be predicted in a specific individual. While science does not absolutely dictate the age of 60 for commercial passenger pilot retirement, that age is within the age range during which sharp increases in disease mortality and morbidity occur. Clearly, there is a progressive anatomic, physiological, and cognitive decline associated with aging, albeit variable in severity and onset among individuals. There is no absolute, scientific formula that may be readily applied. It is indisputable that, as people age, they experience more illnesses and disorders, and suffer more cognitive decline. Cardiovascular disease rises with age, steeply, beginning between ages 55 and 65, and, though mortality has dropped since 1960, cardiovascular disease remains the most frequent cause of death in pilots and the general population. With this increased incidence of cardiovascular disease in the older population, the risk for unexpected events that could be a threat to safety of flight is increased. Cardiac events (e.g., heart attacks, heart failure) during flight have continued to occur in low but fairly consistent numbers over the years and have caused general aviation accidents. Other health conditions are known to increase in incidence or to become more complicated with aging. Many present greater difficulties of detection and risk assessment than do cardiovascular disease. Among these are cerebrovascular disease; malignancies; endocrine dysfunction; neurological disorders; psychiatric disorders, including depression; and decline in sensory and motor capabilities. There has been an increasing awareness of the more subtle adverse conditions affecting performance, such as those related to cognitive functioning. The “Age 60 rule” has served well as a regulatory limit in the United States. It remains the best determination that can be made of the time when a general decline in health-related functions and overall cognitive capabilities has reached a level where decrements in a pilot's performance may jeopardize safety. The “Age 60 rule” has been repeatedly reviewed to determine whether new and sufficient evidence exists to warrant a reconsideration of the regulation. Studies conducted to date do not present sufficient information that would address concerns about negatively impacting the current level of safety by changing the rule. The FAA has invited the public to provide comments on the viability of the “Age 60 rule.” The most recent comment period was opened in September 2002 in relation to a petition for exemption to the rule filed by a coalition of U.S. pilots approaching age 60. Nearly 7,000 comments were submitted during the month-long open comment period. Overwhelmingly, the comments favored retaining the current “Age 60 rule.” They cited safety and medical issues most often as reasons for retention of the current rule. Several U.S. Courts of Appeals have reviewed the “Age 60 rule” and studies related to the rule. Uniformly, these courts have denied petitioners’ requests for relief from the rule. In September 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused to review FAA’s denial of a petition for exemptions from the rule. In May 2055, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear arguments on the same matter. In recent years several bills to revise the age limit for airliner pilots have been introduced. In February 2001, a bill to modify the “Age 60 rule” by increasing the age limit to age 65 was referred to the House Subcommittee on Aviation. In March 2001, a bill to modify the “Age 60 rule” to age 63 was favorably reported by this Committee. Neither bill was ultimately enacted. Most recently, legislation was proposed earlier this year that would tie an age limit for air carrier pilots to Social Security retirement age eligibility. Modifying the long-standing baseline of age 60 in the U.S. requires that the public be shown how such modification would maintain an equivalent level of safety. The “Age 60 rule” is a long-standing operational rule that pre-dates subsequent studies completed over the years. None of the studies completed since implementation of the rule provide satisfactory data that conclusively supports changing the rule. No protocols exist to reliably predict when or whether an over-age-60 pilot might experience a medical event that could jeopardize aviation safety. With inconclusive data and no practical experience with pilots above age 60, the FAA does not agree, at this time, to modify the current age limit for airliner pilots. Mr. Chairman, the FAA will develop regulations in the context of what is best for public safety. The FAA's primary mission is ensuring the safety of the National Airspace System. We work hard to manage a growth oriented aviation system--and the constraints on the system that growth imposes--in the most efficient and safe way possible. The FAA establishes, through our regulations, basic safety standards for aircraft and crewmembers that will ensure the safety of our traveling public. We construct our regulations very carefully, taking into account as many factors as we can, but ultimately, always making the decision that will best enhance aviation safety. While economic factors are certainly a part of that calculation, I am sure the Committee and our colleagues in industry would agree that safety must be the top priority. That concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions the Committee may have.
Witness Panel 3
Captain Duane WoerthPresident,Airline Pilots Association, International
CAPTAIN DUANE E. WOERTH
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL
THE AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE
UNITED STATES SENATE
THE FAA AGE 60 RULE
JULY 19, 2005
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Duane Woerth, President of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). Our union—the largest pilot union in the world—represents more than 64,000 airline pilots at 41 carriers. On behalf of ALPA, I appreciate the invitation to appear before the Committee today to present ALPA’s views on the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots as specified under the FAA regulation commonly known as the “Age 60 Rule.” The federal regulation that restricts airline pilots from flying as captains and first officers in Part 121 operations is one of the most historically contentious issues among the pilot community. For every strongly held opinion that this rule must be changed, an equally strong opinion holds that it remain the same. As many of you already know, our Association recently completed the most comprehensive information campaign and member survey that our union has ever conducted on a single issue. The results of that survey were presented for discussion to our Executive Board, which is made up of the leaders of our 41 pilot groups. Their discussion led to a unanimous vote to accept the reported results, leaving our policy on the rule intact. No matter their personal views on the issue, or the views within their own pilot communities, the ALPA Executive Board agreed that the information campaign had been exhaustive and balanced, that our members understood the issues at stake, and that the survey results were clear and accurate. Their unanimity makes it possible for me to state for the record today that the Air Line Pilots Association opposes changing the Age 60 Rule, as we have since 1980. Results of the ALPA Age 60 Survey Since September 2004, when we began this initiative, our members have considered the issue from many angles, weighed the evidence, and expressed their views on the Age 60 Rule candidly and forthrightly. The assessment of ALPA members’ views is based on two studies with identical questionnaires. The first was a telephone poll conducted from March 30 through April 4. The second was a web-based survey conducted from April 4 through April 29, 2005. Taken together, the telephone poll data and the two sets of demographically stratified web survey data provide extremely accurate results, with a raw sample margin of error of less than 1% and less than 0.5% with sample stratification. We specifically excluded polling our roughly 5,000 furloughed pilots, who would presumably be the strongest supporters of keeping the rule in place. The results of the survey show that a majority of ALPA pilots favor maintaining the Age 60 Rule. Consider the following statistics from the survey:
· When asked in a straight-forward yes or no format, “Do you favor changing the FAA Age 60 Rule?” 56% of ALPA pilots support maintaining the current rule; 42% want it to change.
· When we asked pilots specifically about changing the rule to age 65, support for maintaining the current rule rose to 58% and support for change dropped to 39%.
· The more specific we got, the fewer pilots supported change. When given a series of options and asked which they would most support, 54% support the current rule, while only 10% support increasing the age limit to 62, and only 22% support increasing it to 65. Further, fewer than 10% support the option of changing the rule to one that measures physical ability and health on an individual basis, regardless of age. And, fewer than 5% support increasing the age limit to higher than age 65 (2%) or lifting the age limit completely (3%).
Several collateral findings indicate that the majority who oppose a change in the Age 60 Rule could grow even larger—into the low-to-mid-60% range or higher—depending on the specifics of any requirements and/or restrictions that might be proposed. We asked pilots whether they support additional operational and/or medical requirements if the rule is changed. Only 29% support additional medical exams, a mere 23% support more line/simulator checks, and only 22% support additional operational restrictions if the age 60 regulation is changed. These results reflect the pilot profession’s perspective on the Age 60 Rule. Additionally, numerous court decisions, extensive medical studies, and previous Congressional actions have led to the same conclusion: This rule should be changed only if we can guarantee—beyond all reasonable doubt—that any change will have a positive effect on air safety. Rationale for Maintaining the FAA Age 60 Rule The Age 60 Rule is based on two fundamental principles of medical science that are indisputable. First, the risks of incapacitation and unacceptable decrements in performance increase with age. Second, medical science has not developed a regimen of reliable tests that can be administered effectively to determine which aging pilots will become incapacitated, or whose performance will decline to an unacceptable level. The issues surrounding the regulation have been studied as thoroughly as any aeromedical matter affecting pilots, and after decades of comprehensive studies and exhaustive review, these two principles are still valid as the underlying basis for the rule. The FAA, when it reviewed the most advanced cognitive testing technology, known as CogScreen-AE, concluded that that test “cannot sufficiently identify age-related cognitive function deficits that would impact pilot performance and aircraft safety.” On appeal of this decision in Yetman v. Garvey 261 F.3d at 675 (7th Cir. 2001), the Court of Appeals affirmed the FAA’s decision, concluding: “Ultimately, we find that substantial evidence supports the FAA’s finding that CogScreen-AE is not, at this point, an adequate cognitive tool for determining whether an exemption to the Age Sixty Rule is warranted.” Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling declining to hear a group of pilots’ applications for exemption from the FAA Age 60 Rule in Butler v. FAA, cert. denied, 125 S. Ct. 1986 (May 2, 2005). The Age 60 Rule has also withstood the legal challenge that it constitutes age discrimination. Although the rule does mandate a chronological age for retirement, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that it does not violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). In Professional Pilots Federation (PPF) v. FAA, 118 F.3d at 763 (D.C. Cir. 1997), the court held that, “nothing in the ADEA can plausibly be read to restrict the FAA from making age a criterion for employment when it acts in its capacity as the guarantor of public safety in the air…therefore, we conclude that the ADEA does not limit the authority of the FAA to prescribe a mandatory retirement age for pilots.” In late 1979, the House of Representatives rejected a proposal to relax the rule, and directed the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study to determine if sufficient medical evidence supported the rule. In August 1981, the National Institute of Aging Review Panel on the Experienced Pilots Study, which was responsible for reviewing the study and submitting a report to Congress, concluded: “The Panel attaches no special medical significance to age 60 as a mandatory age for retirement of airline pilots. It finds, however, that age-related changes in health and performance influence adversely the ability of increasing numbers of individuals to perform as pilots with the highest level of safety and, consequently, endanger the safety of the aviation system as a whole. Moreover, the Panel could not identify the existence of a medical or performance appraisal system that can single out those pilots who would pose the greatest hazard because of early or impending deterioration in health or performance.” After the NIA completed its review, the rule was contested in Federal Court and reconsidered by the FAA. In 1989, in response to a directive by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the FAA reviewed the evidence and reaffirmed its support of the rule. In the decision, the FAA’s Director of Flight Standards stated: “Based upon all of the studies discussed, we conclude that an older pilot’s edge in experience does not offset the undetected physical infirmities associated with the aging process. Notwithstanding that most pilots who are approaching or have passed age 60 report that their health is excellent and they do not experience any physical or cognitive limitations which would prevent them from continuing their flying career, the research of aging indicates that there is often a sharp decline in physical and cognitive performance after age 60. There is substantial scientific evidence which indicates that the greater experience of the pilots who have reached or passed age 60 does not outweigh the increased risk of incapacitation or skill deterioration which accompanies seniority.” Between 1990 and 1994, the FAA sponsored a four-part study, known as the “Hilton Reports,” to review the Age 60 Rule. The part that received the most attention was a study of accident rates as a function of age, and that part concluded that the FAA could cautiously raise the age limit to 63. However, the FAA found some substantial flaws in the accident study and never adopted its conclusions. The D.C. Circuit upheld the FAA’s decision in PPF v. FAA, 118 F.3d at 769. Between 2000 and 2003, the FAA, at the request of Congress, sponsored an updated four-part study conducted by the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). The CAMI study claimed that no necessary relationship existed between the accident rate and pilot age, but in 2004 an update to the original CAMI study analyzed the general methodology used in accident studies and concluded that the data are prone to errors and misinterpretations, thus calling into question the results. Advocates for changing the rule point out that many countries have an upper age limit beyond 60 and a few have no upper age limit at all. Some countries have modified their regulations for licensure purposes as one way to address their pilot staffing needs. However, this is not a need in the United States, where more than 6,000 ALPA pilots are currently furloughed because of the financial state of the airline industry. Pilots for many of the major airlines in Europe actually retire before the age of 60, some as young as 55. This corresponds with a large percentage of pilots for the major U.S. carriers who actually retire before age 60 for medical or other reasons. Also, regardless of the local regulatory requirement, at most European national carriers, their collective bargaining agreements govern the retirement age, which in most cases is less than 60, and pilots older than 60 are generally limited to the second-in-command position. These examples substantiate the FAA’s determination that the Age 60 Rule is reasonable and within an acceptable range of risk for commercial air transportation operations and has proven to be an effective safety regulation. The results of the ALPA Age 60 survey reaffirm the Association’s policy in support of the FAA’s position. Mr. Chairman, let me conclude my statement by saying that commercial aviation is the safest form of transport in human history. I am proud of the role that ALPA pilots have played in achieving that reality. We cannot take that reality for granted, however. We must do all we can to defend and preserve our safety record—and resist all attempts to change safety regulations simply to boost profit margins. The Age 60 Rule is a safety regulation and should not be changed or repealed unless and until the FAA—not ALPA or any other pilot organization—is convinced, based on sufficient and conclusive evidence, that such action would not have a negative effect on safety. Thank you for this opportunity. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Captain Joseph EichelkrautPresidentSouthwest Airlines Pilot's Association
Captain Joseph “Ike” Eichelkraut
President, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association
The FAA Age 60 Rule
U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce
July 19, 2005
Chairman Burns, Ranking Senator, Rockefeller, and distinguished members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today and to present the views of the pilots of Southwest Airlines on the FAA Age 60 Rule. Mr. Chairman, I commend you and Chairman Stevens for your leadership in becoming original cosponsors of S. 65, which would end the Age 60 Rule and the 45 years of age discrimination it had engendered. At Southwest Airlines, we view the FAA Age 60 Rule as a solution in search of a problem. It is a government imposed restriction without a justifiable medical or safety explanation, and the rule is more indefensible today than it ever has been. In the current economically strained aviation industry, it seems that companies can renege on pension promises made to their pilots and leave them without a way to make a living and with reduced retirement benefits at age 60. And our government won’t let these pilots—many of whom are the safest, most experienced pilots in the skies—keep working until our national retirement age of 65 when they are eligible for social security and Medicare benefits. No one on this panel here today in support of changing the rule is looking for a handout. We are simply asking Congress to tell the FAA to allow us to work, to let us pay into social security and our own pension funds and to retire at an age more in line with current economic and social conventions. Safety or Economics? Safety is not now, and never has been the basis for this rule forcing commercial pilots flying under part 121 to retire before their 60th birthday. As Southwest pilots reach 60, like pilots of other airlines, they are usually the best pilots they have ever been. Pilots age 60 and over fly passengers safely in countries across the globe every day. There are millions of hours of flight time that have been logged by pilots over 60 all over the world, and there has never been a single accident attributed to a pilot’s age. In fact, the FAA routinely grants waivers to overseas pilots of foreign carriers over age 60, but not for the U.S. pilot operating under Part 121. The FAA says the age restriction is only about safety, but recent and past actions on the part of the agency seem to point to economics and politics, rather than safety as the number one consideration on the age question. Similar age restrictions had been placed on air traffic controllers. Until this year, the FAA maintained that safety was the reason why controllers were forced to retire at 56. In the face of shortages of controllers, however, the FAA now permits them to work until 61 and says that safety is less of a concern. The same logic must have applied when the FAA exempted a group of pilots from the age sixty rule between 1995 to 1999 that were flying aircraft carrying between 10 and 30 passengers. Prior to 1995, these passenger operations were conducted under FAR Part 135 but were shifted by the FAA in 1995 to come under compliance of Part 121 operations with its age 60 rule. If the FAA truly believed that the level of safety could not be maintained, then why grant the exception for these pilots to continue flying well past the age of 60? The FAA often cites its duty to ensure air carriers operate with the highest possible degree of safety. But this does not explain why the FAA applies the Age 60 Rule to some but not to all air carriers operating in the United States. In a 1991 letter, Dr. Stanley Mohler, then Director of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton Ohio, references a meeting held in Congressman Edward Roybal’s office in the 1980’s on the same subject before us today in this hearing. According to Dr. Mohler, the FAA, represented at the meeting by Administrator Don Engen, Federal Air Surgeon, Frank Austin, and Deputy Federal Air Surgeon, Jon Jordan, stated that there was no longer a medical basis for the age 60 regulation. He goes on in his letter to say that the FAA was reluctant to delete or make exceptions to the rule primarily because of administrative burdens it believed would be placed on the airlines. It was pure economics. Background on the Age 60 Rule If it is not about safety, then what is the rule all about? The Age 60 rule came about in 1959, not due to any public outcry over safety concerns, but as a convenient way to settle a labor dispute at American Airlines over training pilots to fly new Boeing 707 jet aircraft. It took longer to train older pilots with no prior jet experience than younger, jet experienced, Korean War veterans, and therefore, it was more expensive to transition the older pilots. There were no safety or medical concerns expressed by either American Airlines or a panel of experts, convened in May 1959 by the Administrator, which recommended that age 55 become the maximum age for jet transition and age 60 become the federally mandated retirement age for airline piloting. The age 55 provisions went away due to comments at public hearings and written comments. The age 60 proposal was never publicly aired per the prescribed rule making process nor was there any medical or statistical evidence of reduced performance in older airline pilots. In the Q & A section of the FAA press release that announced the age rule, the first question asks: "Has it been demonstrated that age is a factor in the occurrence of air carrier accidents?" The Answer was, and remains, "No." The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) opposed age-based retirement as a matter of policy and challenged these company-imposed age-based retirements through the grievance process. In 1958-59, grievances were directed against American Airlines (whose pilots were represented by ALPA at the time), TWA and Western Airlines. In some cases the companies used medical and flight-safety arguments to support their positions; interestingly enough, ALPA succeeded in rebutting these points, which had no scientific or medical evidence back then either. Each of the grievances were decided in favor of the union and against the airline. C. R. Smith, American Airlines founder and CEO, unhappy with the arbitrator's decision, refused to reinstate the three pilots who had brought the retirement grievance. ALPA called for a strike against American. After the 21-day walkout, the company ceded most points to the pilot group and pilots returned to work. Unable to hold back the pilots through normal collective bargaining, Smith turned to a longtime friend, Elwood R. (Pete) Quesada, who had been appointed administrator of the newly-created Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In a letter dated February 5, 1959, Smith asked the FAA to proclaim age 60 as a federally-mandated retirement age for pilots. Quesada obliged by proposing what we now know as the Age 60 Rule. The FAA issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) less than one month after Quesada received Smith's request. I am unaware of any Congressional or FAA hearing to debate the proposal at the time. The Final Rule, which was modified to pertain only to air carrier pilots, was published on December 5, 1959 and became effective on March 15, 1960. In January of 1962, Administrator Quesada retired from the FAA and was elected to American Airline's Board of Directors. Today ALPA is opposed to allowing U.S. pilots to fly past 60. But they support flying up to the age of 65 for Canadian pilots. If safety were truly a concern of the ALPA leadership, why would ALPA President, Captain Duane Woerth, compromise those safety principles by affixing his signature to an agreement permitting Canadian Regional Jazz pilots to fly until age 65? Time for a Change The 4700+ pilots of the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association and the management of Southwest Airlines strongly support changing the rule. In a recent Amicus Curiae brief to the Supreme Court, Southwest Airlines argued that FAA’s application of the Age 60 Rule without consideration of individual pilot abilities, health conditions or Medical data is purely arbitrary and not justified; moreover, the FAA’s rigid implementation of the rule deprives Southwest Airlines of some of its best pilots at the peak of their careers. SWA believes that the arbitrary rejection of all age exemption requests disserves the public interest by depriving commercial airlines of leadership and experience in the cockpit. At recent rally outside the Capitol, Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman of the Board, Herb Kelleher, responded candidly to one reporter’s questions, “It’s the right moral thing to do!” Experts Agree: It’s Age Discrimination The rule amounts to nothing more than blatant age discrimination and needs to change. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) agrees. The EEOC opposes the Age 60 rule and maintains that the FAA violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1968 (ADEA) because it unjustifiably applies a different standard to pilots over age 59 than younger pilots doing the same job. In fact, The EEOC has successfully forced private corporations to eliminate rules that required their pilots to retire at 60. The American Association of Retired Persons agrees as well. In a letter of support to Senator James Inhofe for S. 65, they state… “Older workers, like all workers, should be judged on the basis of their individual competency and ability to do the job. There is no evidence that pilots over 60 perform worse than younger pilots. Indeed, there is reason to believe that lengthy experience is a good predictor of pilot competence.” The NIH agrees too. In 1981, The National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health agreed saying, “The Age 60 Rule appears indefensible on medical grounds” and “There is no convincing evidence to support age 60, or any other specific age for mandatory pilot retirement.” Safe Cockpits at Any Age The FAA has stated that unless it can be assured that the level of safety is maintained or improved, it cannot support a change to the current age 60 rule. But this condition stated by the FAA is already and inherently attained by their own existing procedures—procedures which are the gold standard around the world. The FAA already has in place the ideal mechanisms for ensuring safe pilots at any age regardless of whether they are 35, 45, 55 or, frankly, 65 years old. The current system of checks and balances does not simply fall apart the day a pilot turns 60; given the chance to work, we know that the current system would continue to perform as well. In a perfect world, this system coupled with the choice of the pilot, would dictate when the proper age for retirement has been reached. Let’s review the current system in place. To retain my license and fly as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, I must pass semi-annual flight physicals administered by a qualified (FAA licensed) Aero-Medical Examiner (AME). When a pilot turns 40 years of age, he must undergo an annual EKG every other flight physical, which is electronically transmitted by the AME directly to FAA headquarters where a computer program alerts if parameters dictate. Pilots must also successfully pass semi-annual simulator training and flight checks designed to evaluate the crewmember's ability to respond to various aircraft emergencies and/or competently handle advances in flight technology and the Air Traffic Control (ATC) environment. Captains must demonstrate, twice yearly, complete knowledge of systems and procedures, safe piloting skills and multi-tasking by managing emergency and normal flight situations, typically in instrument flight conditions conducted in advanced simulators. There is no greater test of cognitive ability and mental dexterity than these simulator rides. Flight crews are also administered random in-flight check rides by FAA inspectors and Southwest check airmen. Further, we are subject to random alcohol and drug testing at any time while on duty. There is no other profession in America today examined to this level. The 59 year old Captain arrives at this point in his career having demonstrated successful performance following years of this kind of scrutiny. This pilot is one of the fittest, and best trained pilots in the skies. Yet the FAA forces Southwest and other airlines to retire hundreds of their best every year because of the age 60 rule. These are the checks and balances that are in place today for every pilot: two pilots in a failsafe cockpit, twice yearly medicals, annual training, annual simulator evaluations, annual flight evaluations, Federal inspectors, Computer verified EKG’s, Chief Pilot supervision. The list goes on and on. The system works now. The system is self purging. It will continue to maintain the level of safety the FAA banks on everyday and says that it needs in order to consider a change in the current rule. Today, simulator failure rates among Southwest pilots are low. But as pilots approach age 60 the failure numbers are at their lowest. The graph below shows this. Experience is the key in this fact. As pilots get older, they know how to better handle the extreme situations they may have encountered in simulator checks. The mean failure rate declines at an even rate from a pilot’s thirties through his fifties. Of course, because of the Age 60 rule, I don’t have data to show that this trend would continue throughout a pilot’s sixties, but I suspect it would. In 1993 the FAA itself released the Hilton Study, which backs up the simulator data above. The study found that “The data for all groups of Pilots were remarkably consistent in showing a modest decrease in accident rate with age [and] no sign of increase in accident rates as pilots near age 60.” That would suggest to me that by retiring these pilots at 60, the overall safety of the flying public is compromised. Commercial flying under part 121 passengers requires a pilot and co-pilot, at least in the large commercial aircraft which SWA flies. It is uncommon for one of the pilots to become ill during flight but not unheard of. In such cases, the other pilot is present to safely conduct the flight to a conclusion at which point a replacement is obtained before continuing. Most of the illnesses encountered during the flight regime encompass pressurization changes or incompatible food ingestion (the latter is probably the greatest source of illnesses flying on line). Less frequent are the unwanted physiological responses to pressure changes but the most common is an inability to neutralize pressures in the sinuses or Eustachian tubes (ears) during climbs and descents. Why Change Now? Safety has never been anything more than a pretense for the rule. Political opposition to change is strong and comes from respected organizations like the FAA and ALPA. Age discrimination laws have been in place for decades and haven’t forced a change in the rule. Why should Congress act to change it now? The rule has clearly been about economics all along. And economics are the reason to change the rule now. The airline industry is changing. Airline pension funds are migrating rapidly from defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution plans (DC). At Southwest Airlines, my retirement benefits are quite like those that most Americans fortunate enough to have retirement benefits also have. I have a 401k plan that my company pays a defined contribution to every year. All but a handful of airlines now have similar benefits. U.S. Airways and United pension funds were terminated and taken over by the PBGC this year. Delta, Northwest and Continental—essentially all DB plans—are at risk, and are likely to add significantly to the federal government’s unfunded pension liability. Pilots at these airlines have already lost significant portions of their retirement and face uncertain futures with a gap in retirement and health care benefits to carry them over to social security and Medicare age—which we all know is going up not down (as ALPA would like it to for pilots). Working to 65 would help these pilots close that gap. DC plans also offer pilots and all Americans an opportunity to maximize retirement savings at little cost to the government, and no risk to the PBGC or the corporations. DC plans offer older legacy carrier pilots the only opportunity to recover from the loss of their defined benefit plans. But pilots must be able to work until full Social Security retirement age, as S.65 allows, to maximize these benefits. This will have a net positive impact on the federal budget, and will have a net positive impact on the safety of the flying public by keeping our most experienced pilots in the air for an additional few years. Breaking Records Past 60 Today, it seems that sixty-plus year old pilots are breaking world aviation records with regular frequency. Just last summer the world was thrilled when SpaceShip One became the first manned commercial vehicle to slip the surly bonds of earth. The craft was piloted by 63 year old test pilot Mike Melvill, who had a very physical challenge bringing that ship safely back to earth. Then, we all watched this spring when 60 year old Steve Fossett became the first to complete a nonstop, solo airplane flight around the world. Fossett and Melvill are clearly top pilots, out there “pushing the edge of the envelope.” Under the current FAA rules however, neither would be allowed to fly a Boeing 737 for my airline. Today, July 19, is a fateful day in aviation history. Many of you will remember that sixteen years ago today, July 19, 1989, United Airlines flight 232 took off from Denver, CO. Captain Al Haynes reported to air traffic control that his DC-10 loaded with 285 passengers and 11 crew were without hydraulics and unable to turn the aircraft, and essentially doomed. By using throttle movements to control the paralyzed aircraft, Capt. Haynes and his crew began to slowly turn and control the aircraft and were able to get it to a runway in Sioux City, IA. Although 110 people were killed that day, the deaths of 186 people were averted due to the experience of fifty-nine year old Captain Al Haynes and his crew. In subsequent simulator tests other DC-10 crews were unable to repeat the effort of the crew of Flight 232. Investigators concluded that, in its damaged condition, it was not possible to land the aircraft on a runway. Al Haynes was forced to retire that year, not because he had been in a crash, but because the FAA told him he was too old. Congress Should Act Now The committee has before it the solution to the problem. S. 65, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and its House companion, H.R 65 introduced by Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) would give those pilots the right to continue to work, safely flying passengers to their destinations should they chose to do so. In fact, it is our belief that safety is actually compromised by requiring our most experienced pilots to retire at the peak of their careers. Mr. Chairman, the pilots of Southwest Airlines and all those here in uniform today appreciate your willingness to hold this important hearing and hope that it will be the first step in moving legislation to change the FAA’s antiquated and discriminatory Age 60 Rule once and for all. Thank You.
Mr. Al SpainSenior Vice President of OperationsJetBlue Airways Corporation
Captain Al Spain
Senior Vice President, Operations
JetBlue Airways Corporation
Mandatory Retirement for Commercial Airline Pilots
At Age 60
Senate Subcommittee on Aviation
July 19, 2005
Chairman Burns, Ranking Member Rockefeller, and distinguished members of this subcommittee. On behalf of my 8,500 JetBlue Airways Crewmember colleagues and, in particular, my 1,000 pilot colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the important issue of the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots. Today, under a rule first enacted in 1959 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilots flying commercial aircraft under Part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations must retire by their 60th birthday. Since its enactment more than forty-five years ago, this rule has been the source of great debate and at no time has it been of more intense debate than today. JetBlue and its pilot corps oppose the current mandatory retirement age rule for many reasons. However, as I will explain below, the principle reason is that it is simply wrong. JetBlue, established 2000, has already achieved the Department of Transportation (DOT) rank of a “major” carrier – the quickest this status has ever been achieved by an airline in the United States. JetBlue was built on five simple values: Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun and Passion – with Safety always first and foremost in all that we do. These five values are the foundation of our airline and all of the blocks on which JetBlue are built are consistent with these values. With 77 aircraft today growing to 91 by year’s end, JetBlue’s safety value lights the path for our continued controlled-growth. In keeping with our safety value and our integrity value, JetBlue has stood on the sidelines and watched as several key pilot leaders have been removed from active flying as a result of the Age 60 Rule. This alone and not any previous or pending economic impact to our healthy bottom line, is why I am here today. JetBlue has been profitable for 17 successive quarters at a time when 100,000 airline employees have lost their jobs, several carriers are in bankruptcy and others openly discuss bankruptcy. As an officer of JetBlue, a pilot who has been forced to retire under the Age 60 and as the leader of our pilot corps, this is a wrong that Congress now should right. Both S-65, along with HR-65, are the means by which to do so. In 1959, the FAA promulgated its rule based on the “medical facts” of the day. It was believed then, and relied upon as the primary basis for the rule itself, that “significant medical defects” resulted from the progressive deterioration of physiological and psychological functions which occur normally with aging. These supposed “facts” from the last century are anything but accepted facts today and the rule based on these “facts” amounts to pure 21st Century age discrimination. The facts of 2005 weigh in favor of eliminating the Age 60 Rule. As far back as 1985, The National Institutes of Health testified before the House Select Committee on Aging that the National Institute of Aging (part of the NIH) could no longer support the FAA’s retention of the Age 60 Rule. Similarly, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has held the FAA Age 60 Rule violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1968. In the private sector, the EEOC has successfully ensured that private companies eliminate rules that required their pilots retire at age 60. In the Senate, one of your most distinguished former colleagues, Ohio’s John Glenn, at age 77, flew for nine days in space. More recently, the first manned commercial vehicle to travel to space and back was piloted by test pilot Mike Melvill, winner of the X Prize, at age 63. Mr. Melvill, despite worldwide acclaim resulting from his historic achievement, would be barred by the law were he to try flying for JetBlue. Further, the American Association for Retired People, on behalf of their 35 million members over age 50, strongly supports HR-65 and S-65. Throughout the developed world, the United States stands nearly alone by mandating retirement of pilots at age 60, with the notable exceptions of France and China. Most nations permit pilots to fly until age 65, such as Japan and Israel, and the European Joint Aviation Authority recently raised their age limit to 65 for commercial pilots. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) too has recommended that member states, including the United States, adjust to a maximum age of 65 for commercial pilots. All JetBlue pilots, whether age 40 or age 59, must undergo rigorous FAA medical screening procedures to ensure they are fit to fly. This includes a semi-annual physical exam and, after age 40, an annual electrocardiogram. Beyond medical screening, all pilots must successfully pass a simulator training flight check twice yearly. Such testing ensures awareness and thorough knowledge of procedures, systems, piloting skills and the ability to safely manage emergency scenarios. These tests, which ensure the mental and physical health of pilots, are in addition to random in-flight check rides performed by both FAA inspectors and JetBlue check airmen. Almost no worker in America has more oversight when it comes to their medical ability and competency to fly and no one has more of an incentive to maintain safety for the flying public than airlines’ themselves. Finally, in the current economic environment faced by most airlines, thousands of pilots have lost their jobs. Equally unfortunate, for many still employed, they have seen their pension plans virtually eliminated. Thus, while not at issue at JetBlue where we have defined contribution plans, many pilots must retire from flying at age 60 and they do not collect social security until age 65. The proposals in S-65 would allow these experienced pilots to continue fly, earn wages and contribute to their pension plans. In this regard, JetBlue has only had a small number of pilots removed from the cockpit due to the Age 60 Rule. Of our more than 1,000 pilots, these few pilots have all remained employed as active Crewmembers, some flying non-revenue flights, some teaching and some serving as members of our leadership team. JetBlue’s values simply cannot allow us to disregard an individual’s decades of valuable experience merely because of an outdated rule. Not only does our airline benefit from the wisdom attained through decades of experience, but these pilots remain active contributors to their own retirement savings. This benefits JetBlue, our pilots and all taxpayers. JetBlue believes that each pilot should be judged on the basis of his or her ability to fly and their competency – not an unsubstantiated rule based on outdated and mistaken medical assumptions. We strongly support Senator Inhofe, and Congressman Gibbons, both fellow pilots, for their tireless work on this important issue and urge this committee to make S-65, a bill to amend the age restrictions for pilots, the law of the land. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for today’s opportunity to testify.
Captain Ralph HunterPresidentAllied Pilots Association
APA President Ralph Hunter’s Testimony before the
SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
Hearing on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Age 60 Rule
Tuesday, July 19, 2005, at 3:30 p.m.,
in Room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am Captain Ralph Hunter, President of the Allied Pilots Association (APA) representing the approximately 13,000 pilots of American Airlines – the world’s largest passenger airline. On behalf of our members, I thank you for this opportunity to testify before this panel in strong support of the so called “Age 60 Rule” that governs the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots. In the course of debating a significant change to air transportation regulations, our goal should be, “First, Do No Harm.” Maintaining or increasing the current level of aviation safety must be the primary test by which any new regulation is judged. Economic and personal considerations should not be disregarded, but the annals of aviation and aerospace history overflow with examples of the false economy that results by giving safety a back seat to other issues. Safety concerns gave birth to the Age 60 Rule, and in the absence of compelling evidence for change, the federal government’s continuing commitment to aviation safety demands the retention of this important regulation. I would submit that much of the current support for increasing the mandatory retirement age of airline pilots is an economic argument masquerading as an age discrimination argument. Along with most of our nation’s commercial pilots, APA pilots have also suffered the financial pains of an industry in turmoil. Despite this deep concern, we should not contemplate a change to the current retirement rule in absence of clear and convincing evidence that safety is not compromised. Let’s be perfectly clear on one point – mandatory retirement ages are not discriminatory when tied to a bone fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). Both the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have repeatedly denied challenges to the Age 60 Rule based upon this doctrine. Many other professions responsible for the public’s health and safety, such as law enforcement, firefighting, air traffic control, and even the military impose some form of mandatory retirement age. Recognizing this important public policy, Congress passed an exemption to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in 1996 allowing state and local governments to set mandatory retirement ages as low as 55 for public safety employees. It is simply good judgment for individuals in safety-sensitive professions to conclude their careers before the natural process of aging becomes a problem. We all recognize that whenever mandatory retirement is based upon a fixed chronological age, some workers may well be physically capable of continuing their careers for some unknown period. However, current medical technology does not provide a safe and reliable method to make that determination, and the use of a fixed chronological age has proved to be a fair and effective standard. Even the opponents of the Age 60 Rule tacitly admit this fact by merely requesting an increase – and not elimination – of the mandatory retirement age. The question then becomes, “What IS the appropriate age for a pilot to retire before the inevitable effects of aging become too high a risk?” This question has been repeatedly asked, studied, and answered over the rule’s 46-year history. While opponents of the Age 60 Rule would accuse the FAA of ancestor worship, the reality is that as recently as 1994, the FAA made a significant rule change for certain commercial flight operations that actually reduced the retirement age for some pilots as part of its “One Level of Safety” program. One of the most recent and comprehensive surveys of the medical basis for the Age 60 Rule was published in January of 2004 by the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA), and I have included their report as an attachment with my written remarks. Let me quote a few of the key findings from the AsMA study:
Ø “Physiological studies consistently show age-related declines in hearing, vision, and motor skills.”
Ø “Pilot cognitive performance has been shown to generally decline with age.”
Ø “[A] recent simulator study of age and pilot performance found that increased age was significantly associated with decreased aviator performance.”
Ø “Increased pilot experience does not appear to alter the typical age-related decline found in many cognitive skills.”
While opponents of the Age 60 Rule regularly cite this same report as concluding that there is insufficient medical evidence to support pilot restrictions based strictly on chronological age, the study also demonstrates how incredibly difficult and expensive it would be to develop another set of criteria. Quoting from the study’s summary, “A transition to a criterion-based process for determining a pilot’s fitness to fly beyond age 60 would require extensive additional research. The economic burden on the FAA and corporations to develop a non-age safety basis for denying pilots continued employment could be significant.” Despite the report’s support for a shift away from an age based retirement standard, it presented no viable alternative with a substantiated capability to maintain the current level of aviation safety with available medical technology. It is significant to note that a majority of commercial airline pilots support the existing policy. More than 80 percent of APA members supported the Age 60 Rule in a survey we conducted a few years ago. The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) recently reaffirmed its support for Age 60 retirement, and the FAA has stated its desire to maintain the status quo. I believe it would be a grave error to disregard the voices of those closest to the trenches in this debate. We are frequent observers of the very real impact of aging on pilot skills. While we know that nothing magical occurs at age 60 years and one day to make a previously competent pilot unsafe, we are also keenly aware of the inevitable impact of aging on pilot skill and the near impossibility of clearly defining the acceptable limit of that decline with current medical technology. Our position is firm: The Age 60 Rule is a well-established safety regulation substantiated by medical science and reaffirmed repeatedly by the FAA and the Courts. Despite the apparent arbitrariness of using a fixed chronological age, the rule has actually performed its mission quite effectively for more than 46 years. We concede that there very well may come a day when conclusive data exist that supports a replacement for the Age 60 rule. However, that data does not currently exist, and the federal government’s commitment to aviation safety demands that the current rule be retained. I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the 13,000 pilots that APA represents, and I will be glad to answer any questions.