Age 60 Pilot Bill Senate Floor Statement

Mr. President, I rise today, as an experienced pilot over age 60, along with my colleagues, Senator Stevens and Senator Burns, to introduce a bill that will help end age discrimination among airline pilots . I also want to thank my colleague in the other chamber, Congressman JIM GIBBONS, for his leadership on this issue and for introducing the companion version of this bill.
   This bill will abolish the Federal Aviation Administration's Age 60 Rule-the regulation that for more than 40 years has forced the retirement of airline pilots the day they turn 60 and replace it with a rational plan that ties the commercial pilot retirement age to the Social Security retirement age currently 65.
   Most nations have abolished mandatory age 60 retirement rules. The United States is one of only two countries in the Joint Aviation Authority that requires its commercial pilots to retire at the age of 60. Some countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have no upper age limit at all.
   The Age 60 Rule has no basis in science or safety and never did. FAA data shows that pilots over age 60 are as safe as, and in some cases safer than, their younger colleagues. There have been numerous studies and statements in support of abolishing the Age 60 Rule.
   In 1981, the National Institute of Aging stated that ``the Age 60 Rule appears indefensible on medical grounds'' and ``there is no convincing medical evidence to support age 60, or any other specific age , for mandatory pilot retirement.''
   The FAA released the Hilton Study in 1993, which stated ``the data for all groups of pilots were remarkably consistent in showing a modest decrease in accident rate with age no hint of an increase in accident rates as pilots near age 60.''
   Furthermore, in May 1999, the Senate Appropriations Committee asked the FAA to report on why the US should not cautiously increase the age to 63, ``like other countries have for commercial aviation.''
   Airline Pilots magazine stated in a September 2003 article, ``If a permanent replacement for the 30 year Treasury bond rate is also applied to the calculation of lump-sum payments, we recommend a long transition period, similar to that proposed in H.R. 1776, the pension legislation introduced by Rep. BOB PORTMAN. For pilots who must retire at age 60, this is particularly important. It would be unfair to pull the rug out from under employees who have carefully planned their retirement finances, especially pilots who can't fly longer to make up for the amounts lost because of a change in the basis used to calculate lump-sum payments.''
   As recently as September 14, 2004, in a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging , Captain Joseph ``Ike'' Eichelkraut, President of Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association, testified:
   ``The 4400 plus pilots of the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association, oppose the Age 60 Rule.
   ``Flying a commercial airliner is not the physically demanding environment I encountered 15 years ago in the 7 9 ``G'' world of the F-16 I flew in the Air Force. Commercial piloting is, however, a job requiring key management skills and sound judgment. These are talents that I have found typically come with age and experience.
   ``The facts are that plain. The FAA has the ideal mechanisms for ensuring safe pilots at any age are already 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 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 semiannual 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 inflight 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 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. FAA studies have verified the superior level of safety exhibited by this senior Captain.
   ``At Southwest, our pilots are trained to fly the aircraft on instruments down to 50 ¬ above the ground in poor visibility conditions before acquiring the intended runway and landing visually. In simulators, both pilots must demonstrate the ability to immediately determine whether a safe landing can be made at this point and then either execute a ``go-around'' or land. The First Officer is trained to assume control of the aircraft and execute a ``go-around'' if the Captain fails to respond to procedures at this critical decision point. If either pilot should become incapacitated, even at touchdown, the other pilot is capable of assuming control in order to fly the airplane to a safe landing. The passengers would probably remain unaware that a pilot had become ill until the aircraft is met at the gate by Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT).
   ``Simulator failure rates among SWA pilots are low. Last year there were only 31 out of 4,200 simulator checkrides. But as pilots approach age 60 the failure numbers are at their lowest. The graph attached shows this and I believe that experience is the key. 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.''
   I urge the Commerce Committee to hold hearings along these lines.
   Furthermore, on September 29, 2004, thousands of people watched as 63-year-old Michael Melvill made history by becoming the first civilian to pilot a craft into space. In doing so, he helped Paul Allen, the owner of Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which owns SpaceShipOne technology, along with the designer of SpaceShipOne, Burt Rutan, win the coveted $10 million Ansari X-Prize.
   Melvill took SpaceShipOne above the 62-mile altitude point, ultimately soaring to 337,500 feet. Despite rolling nearly 30 times, Melvill was able to gain control of the vehicle, re-enter the atmosphere, and glide to a landing. I attribute this recovery and subsequent landing to Melvill's years of extensive experience as a test pilot .
   This bill will allow our most experienced pilots , those like Michael Melvill demonstrably healthy, and fit for duty-to retain their jobs, a step that will benefit pilots , the financially burdened airlines, and most importantly, passengers. Now, more than ever before, we need to keep our best pilots flying.
   Again, there is no scientific justification for requiring pilots to retire at age 60. Our pilots , our airlines, and our passengers deserve our consideration. I urge the rest of my colleagues to support this important legislation.