At What Age Do Commercial Pilots Have to Retire?

Many children dream that when they grow up, they want to be a pilot. For many of those children, they indeed grow up to be commercial airline pilots.

However, to achieve this position, pilots have to go through many years of education and training before entering the commercial service.

The costs of studying and training can be extensive and many pilots find their starter salaries are not enough to pay back what they spent on thousands of hours of flight training.

With all the hard work and training that goes into being a commercial pilot, there is little surprise that most would rather carry on working rather than retire.

As well as the effort that has gone into building their careers, pay salaries tend to increase the more senior a pilot becomes. However, time as a commercial pilot is limited.

The International Civil Aviation Authority or ICAO set the maximum retirement age for commercial airline pilots at 65. The Federal Aviation Administration (FDA), which is the largest modern transportation agency in the United States, accepted this age and have adopted it themselves.

That being said, some civil aviation authorities have prolonged this age because of a shortage of pilots in their particular field.

In 2015, countries such as Japan have raised the mandatory retirement age to 67 while the Civil Aviation Administration of China is currently considering extending their maximum retirement age of 60. All airlines have very strict health requirements that pilots need to meet, no matter their age. They also have certain skills testing that pilots must pass in order to qualify for piloting.

While some airlines are content with this age limit, some pilot associations are not so pleased. These are pushing for airlines to retain more of their senior pilots because of their valuable experience.

As older pilots have learned to fly without the help of advanced digital systems, many associations are lobbying for pilots to stay on as they may be better for aviation safety. As well as their years in the sky, many pilots have to retire before they qualify for state retirement income.

Pilot associations hope that senior pilots over 65 can still be kept on in some form, even if it is through training programs to help younger pilots.

What is the age 60 rule?

The “Age 60 Rule” has been an operational rule for many years. Causing moral outrage with many pilots over the years, this rule prohibited a pilot from flying a “Part 121 air carrier once upon reaching his or her 60th birthday.”. This rule is in section 121.383 of the Federal Aviation Regulations and it has been challenged extensively over the years.

Despite objections, the age 60 rule remained for any years and continued to affect the carrier of any pilot who was piloting for Part 121 air carrier. This contentious rule came about towards the end of the 1950s. There was no federally mandated retirement age at the time for commercial pilots but some leading airlines had already begun to devise plans for the retirement age to be 60.

In 1958-1959, the first steps to the age 60 rule took place. Despite a large opposition from a variety of aviation organizations, the final age 60 rule was published on December 5, 1959.

Then, on March 15, 1960, the rule became effective. This was said to be based on medical uncertainties regarding pilot’s health when over the age of 60 but many argue that it was a political decision by the CEO of American Airlines C.R. Smith.

FAA argues otherwise and states that the standard rule-making procedures were undertaken to “maintain a high level of safety in part 121 operations.” To this day, the age 60 rule has been the subject of fierce criticism. 

The FAA continued to argue that important physiological and psychological functions occur as you age so the rule was in place for sheer safety purposes.

The FAA believed that medical defects such as heart attacks or strokes could occur without warning but those who were 60 and over were more susceptible to such health concerns.

Critics argue that there is no way that you can predict when any individual can experience such problems, no matter their age but the age 60 rule remained for many years and was thought to be unchangeable.

However, in 2007 the age 60 rule changed as the retirement age rose to 65. This was simply the “law of the land.” This standard age was met by the rest of the world and was warmly welcomed by many pilots and aerospace physicians.

This change was thought to reflect the reality that today’s 60-year-old and over pilots are physically fit enough to continue flying and their valuable experience should not be taken out of the cockpit so soon.