Senior Pilots Prepare Constitutional Challenge

I have an interesting constitutional case developing before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Older pilots are challenging the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act, Pub. L. No. 110-135, 121 Stat. 1450 (2007). The legislation presents not only a raw example of age discrimination but a possible bill of attainder.

Before the legislation was enacted, the pilots were seeking the dismissal of a series of petitions by pilots who challenge orders of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) denying exceptions under the “Age 60 Rule, 14 C.F.R. 121.383(c). The FAA has barred pilots from flying in the United States without any individual consideration of the capabilities, health, or performance of individual pilots. The FAA then sought dismissal on the basis of the enactment of the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act, Pub. L. No. 110-135, 121 Stat. 1450 (2007), which sought to eliminate the discriminatory Age 60 Rule.

Since 1959, the FAA has imposed this rule that was directly tied to a labor dispute between pilots and the airlines. Airlines like American Airlines had failed to impose an early retirement rule through negotiations and arbitrations. When American Airline lost an arbitration decision on the early retirement, it succeeded in getting the FAA to impose it through federal regulation. The FAA promulgated the Age 60 Rule, which provides that “[n]o certificate holder may use,” and “[n]o person may serve as,” “a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under [14 C.F.R. Part 121] if that person has reached his 60th birthday.” 14 C.F.R. 12.
There was never a medical basis for the rule. Indeed, even at the time, FAA lawyers in 1959 found “[no] scientific or factual justification” for the rule. Likewise, in1981, the National Institutes of Health (through the National Institute on Aging Panel on the Experienced Pilots Study) also found no scientific or medial basis for the FAA policy. Yet, the FAA continued to impose the rule. In the meantime, other major industrialized countries rejected the Age 60 rule as unnecessary and discriminatory.
On March 10, 2006, the ICAO governing Council adopted a recommendation of the Air Navigation Commission to use the age 65 as the age limit for air carrier pilots-in-command. Under this standard, an older pilot may serve as a pilot-in-command on a multi-pilot crew so long as the co-pilot is under the age 60. Thus, the only limitation is that both pilot and co-pilot cannot be over the age of 60. This international standard became effective on November 23, 2006 and the United States, under U.S. aviation treaty obligations, must conform to the rule
The international standard created a bizarre anomaly in the United States. As a member, the United States had to comply with the standard and thus has allowed older pilots to fly within the United States on foreign carriers despite the fact that they are over 60. However, U.S. airlines continued to be barred from using such pilots, even if every test and examination showed them to be fully capable.

The FAA itself admitted that the rule was archaic and unnecessary. On January 30, 2007, the F.A.A. Administration spoke of the lack of support for the Age 60 rule at the National Press Club:

It’s time to close the book on Age 60. The retirement age for
airline pilots needs to be raised. So, the FAA will propose a new
rule – to allow pilots to fly until they are 65. ….

When airlines back in the day [the 1950s] were forcing pilots to
retire, the union took legal action. Arbitrators ruled for the pilots
each time. …American Airlines prevailed on the FAA for a rule.
…. The man in charge at American, C.R. Smith, wrote to Pete
Quesada, the administrator at the time. …. Less than four months
later, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a proposed
rule…. When you’re 60, your career as an airline pilot would
be over.

…. It’s now a different day and age. The issues of experience,
harmonization – and let’s face it – equity – all have to be

Despite such frank admissions, the FAA continued to fight efforts to challenge the Age 60 rule and continued to deny exceptions to the rule for individual pilots.

Congress finally acted to correct the long-standing controversy in passing the Fair
Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act, Pub. L. No. 110-135, 121 Stat. 1450 (2007), which President Bush signed on December 13, 2007.

Without any stated reason, the Congress said that pilots who turned 60 before December 13, 2007 could only be rehired without their seniority and benefits. There is no connection to airline safety, of course. It is simply a congressional sweetheart deal for the union and some airlines. What is fascinating is that, even at this stage, the government cannot come up with even a rational basis for this punitive treatment of older pilots.

The impact fell largely on veterans — thousands of pilots who were instantly deprived of their benefits. Moreover, only about 2 percent (less than 60) of the 3,000 pilots forced out of the air by the FAA and then stripped of their rights by Congress have been rehired by U.S. airlines.

Our opening brief is scheduled for mid-June.

For the most recent article on the case, click here.

For more on the Age 60 rule, click here.

12 thoughts on “Senior Pilots Prepare Constitutional Challenge”

  1. Steve:

    I ‘m with Jill. I think you need more than heat to convey your point. (“hey, Turley”, what is that?) Why are experienced pilots on the street if other experienced pilots are permitted to remain in the cockpit past their 60th birthday with no loss of quality or increased risk of in-air health emergencies? This does not follow from what you have posted. From what I see, Professor Turley is correct that the most experienced pilots will stay in the cockpit where they belong, while other pilots will be gaining experience. The only possible rationale I can see is that older pilots may delay promotion or employment of younger pilots. If this is the gripe, it is more properly directed at the younger pilots parents who should have gotten busier sooner, rather than those attempting to insure that people are not irrationally discriminated against based solely on their advancing age.

  2. Hello Steve,

    I am actually interested in hearing your point of view. I must say it is radically different from my own, so I guess, that is why I would like to hear it. I am not interested in personal attacks or invective. Would you please lay out your argument without those? I am being sincere when I say I would like to hear your thoughts. I hope you will answer me in kind.


  3. “This law makes no sense. Experienced pilots are the ones you want flying the plane because they have flown every model out there.”

    Hey Turley,

    You have no idea what you are talking about. There are plenty of experienced pilots on the street and will remain unemployed because of this new law.

    This is just an attempt to extort more money from airlines and pilots that are under 60. Greed knows no bounds and you’re just another facilitator of it.

  4. You wanna put this on our already beleaguered airline industry?! As we’re battling bankruptcies and $130/barrel oil you wanna push the selfish interests of 3000 people on us? EVERY ONE of those 3000 KNEW the rules when they started flying. Retire at 60. Don’t like it, don’t go into the industry. Sorry. Just another example of the ME ME ME generation who took their million dollar payouts and now want more. Leave our industry alone.

  5. Hi Bob,

    There has been several instances of outside interference in this blog. Once, many of us got some pretty cool avatars out of it! That may be why things aren’t going through correctly.


  6. Equity delights to do justice and not by halves; and I don’t have the patience for this piecemeal posting crap.

    Maybe I’ll just email my thoughts to Mespo and he can forward them to Turley.

  7. Test….

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is a Bill of Attainder (pre-1787) by which the Continental Congress effectuated Takings from the loyalists.


  8. Test…

    Wanted to post a few paragraphs about Professor Turley’s Bill of Attainder argument doing more to bolster a Fifth Amendment argument than standing on its own bottom, but this won’t let me post…


  9. Have zero knowledge of the subject but at age 60 wouldn’t a pilot be at or near the top salary?


    Have sat at the end of Sky Harbor on a windy day and watched pilots come in perfectly, even L-10ll’s and then there are pilots whose 737’s are wobbling, side-slipping, adjusting power, and hitting the tarmac hard, many last minute corrections…seems to me the FAA should be looking at this.

  10. I am an FAA licensed Commercial Pilot, and am over sixty years old and I have never understood WHY, when we have to have rigorous physical exams every year or every six months, retirement was MANDATORY at age
    60….and the fact that overseas this was not the case was always and
    STILL IS a real pain in my ars. Has anyone noticed that there have been several in-flight health EMERGENCIES and deaths of flight deck
    officers who were much younger than 60 years old?
    It just plain PI**ES ME OFF….but at least they pay me a lot of
    money TO STAY HOME now….and I spend my day watching my investments.
    Go figure….

  11. Fingerprint Registry in Housing Bill!!!

    Earlier this week, a measure creating a federal fingerprint registry totally unrelated to national security passed a U.S. Senate committee almost without notice. The legislation would require thousands of individuals working even tangentially in the mortgage and real estate industries — and not suspected of anything — to send their prints to the feds. The database and fingerprint mandates were tucked into housing and foreclosure assistance bill, under the Direction of Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

    The fingerprint provisions are contained in a “manager’s amendment” that was hammered out by committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn Monday and attached the next day to a broader housing bailout bill that had been scheduled for a comittee vote. That bill, the “Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act of 2008,” expands the lending authority of the Federal Housing Administration and the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance the mortgages of troubled borrowers and banks.

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