© Reuters. Pilots are seen in the cockpit of an airplane as it sits on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport on the July 4th weekend in Queens, New York City, U.S., July 2, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration told Congress Monday the agency opposes raising the mandatory airline pilot retirement age to 67 from 65 saying the agency should be allowed to first conduct additional research.
“It is crucial to provide the agency an opportunity to conduct research and determine mitigations,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a previously unreported letter seen by Reuters. The U.S. House in July voted 351-69 on an aviation reform measure that would hike the mandatory retirement age to 67.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is eyeing a potential hearing Thursday to consider its own version of the aviation bill to extend the authorization of the FAA.
“When it comes to raising the pilot retirement age, the FAA has made clear that a scientific and safety analysis must come first. That has not happened. Aviation safety is paramount, and now is not the time to take a shortcut,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, the committee chair.
Congress last year failed pass the FAA bill before the Sept. 30 deadline and has voted twice to temporarily extend the agency. The current extension expires in early March.
Airlines for America, a group representing American Airlines (NASDAQ:), United Airlines, Delta Air Lines (NYSE:) and Southwest Airlines (NYSE:), did not immediately comment.
The Air Line Pilots Association opposes raising the retirement age and could cause airline scheduling and pilot training issues and require reopening pilot contracts.
Current international rules would still prevent pilots older than 65 from flying in most countries outside the United States.
The Regional Airline Association supports the pilot age hike, saying it “allows retention of more experienced captains, who can in turn fly alongside and mentor new first officers, helping to stabilize attrition.”
The Senate bill was previously held up by a dispute over whether to change pilot training requirements imposed after the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo that killed 50 people, the last major U.S. passenger airline fatal crash. That issue appears to have been resolved.