By John Hughes
Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. airline pilots could fly until age 65 as long as the other person in the cockpit is younger than 60 under a rule change regulators plan to propose today, a person familiar with the matter said.
Marion Blakey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, may announce the end of the agency's 47-year practice of forcing airline pilots to retire at age 60, said the person, who didn't want to be identified because the policy isn't public yet.
The shift would be a victory for pilots pushing to work longer after losing pension benefits as U.S. airlines struggled financially in the past six years. Younger pilots who want more opportunities for promotions have tended to oppose a higher age.
``It kind of bifurcated the industry from the standpoint of employees,'' said consultant Robert Mann, head of R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York, who advises airlines and unions. ``And managements want to largely turn over employees'' and bring in younger, lower-cost pilots, he said.
A U.S. government panel in November couldn't agree whether the pilot-retirement age should be raised, calling the issue ``contentious.'' Retired pilots shouldn't be allowed to return to work if the FAA does lift the age, the panel said.
Blakey will ask the panel to reconvene to collect more data on the issue, the person said. A regulation raising the retirement age will be formally proposed later this year, the person said. The rule may not be enacted for many months beyond that, as the FAA usually allows public-comment periods for new rules. The FAA declined to comment.
The FAA for years had resisted changing the age-60 rule, citing safety reasons. Safety experts, including the chief executive of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, have said in recent months that age alone is a poor predictor of whether a pilot is safe to fly.
When the FAA's retirement-age advisory panel issued its report in November, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, its pilots union and four Air Line Pilots Association representatives opposed changing the age-60 rule. Southwest Airlines Co. and JetBlue Airways Corp. were among panelists backing a higher age.
Pressure to raise the age has come from U.S. lawmakers including Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe, himself a 72-year-old private pilot. The Senate Appropriations Committee in July approved lifting the age to 65 as part of a $69 billion budget bill. That legislation wasn't enacted into law.
Countries such as Australia, which already allow pilots over age 60 to fly, want their flight crews to be able to cross other nations' airspace and have urged the U.S. to lift the age.
The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, which recommends global air-safety regulations, adopted a standard that pilots should be allowed to fly until age 65 as long as the other pilot in the cockpit is younger than 60 years old.
The international standard change took effect Nov. 23. Older pilots on foreign airlines have been able to fly in U.S. skies since then, if allowed by their carriers and governments.
Airline pilots flying past age 60 included 18 with Japan Airlines Corp., 20 with Qantas Airways Ltd., 35 at SAS Group and 20 at Air New Zealand Ltd., according to an Oct. 12 letter from the International Federation of Air Lines Pilots Associations.