Huizenga School of Business

Law and Ethics Classes


Case Study


Age Discrimination and Pilots – U.S. v. International Law


Prepared by Professor F. Cavico


The Miami Herald newspaper reported in November of 2006 that a recent change in an international law regarding the mandatory age of pilots has brought to the attention of the public, the airline industry, and government regulators the always contentious issue of the mandatory retirement age for pilots, which has been established in the U.S., for almost a half a century, by government edit at age 60.


Many pilots, particularly those reaching 60, say that it is time to change the rule, which was promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Miami Herald reported that several pilots have been lobbying members of Congress to get the mandatory retirement rule changed. In November of 2006, a new international rule went into effect, which permits foreign pilots to fly up to age 65, as well as to fly into the United States so long as they have co-pilots who are no older than 59. The change was implemented by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is a United Nations agency. The rule affects pilots in all but four countries: the U.S., France, Pakistan, and Colombia.


Currently, there is legislation pending in Congress that would replicate the international policy for the United States. The proposed law would allow pilots between the ages of 60-65 to fly if their second pilot is younger than 60. As a response to pressure from the pilots as well as from members of Congress, the FAA has commissioned a panel of aviation experts and medical authorities to determine whether the age requirement should be relaxed. Proponents of the rule state that there is a growing body of medical data to indicate that safety risks from older pilots are non-existent. However, opponents of changing the rule contend that any change could be disastrous to the flying public.


What is most interesting is that the retirement issue has produced deep and vocal divisions within the airline industry and even among pilots. American Airlines, for example, as well as the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 10,000 American Airline pilots, oppose the change. Also opposed is the Air Line Pilots Association, which is the nation’s largest pilots’ union, with 61,000 members from 40 airlines. The communications director for the Allied Pilots Association said the main reason to oppose any change is safety. He explained that since the 60-year-old retirement rule was promulgated, not a single accident has been attributed to the subtle or sudden effect of aging. Moreover, a spokeswoman for American Airlines stated that the rule has served the industry well; and that American Airlines thus does not support changing the rule. However, Southwest Airlines and the 5,300 member Southwest Airlines Pilots Association as well as Jet Blue Airways, with 11,000 crew members, have called for a repeal of the age limit. Southwest’s chairman stated that the skills of airline pilots do not arbitrarily end at age 60.


The Miami Herald related that advocates of the repeal have drawn support from research showing that medical advances over the past several decades have considerably improved health and vitality. According to one study noted in the Miami Herald, a male pilot nearing 60 when the FAA rule was enacted could expect to live to nearly 76. Today, the life expectancy for a 60 year old pilot is 80.2 for men and 83.5 for women. A representative for the AARP also noted that the older pilots are the ones with the most experience. However, to complicate matters, many of the pilots are concerned that their pension plans could be adversely affected by changing the retirement age. Also, younger pilots may have a stake in preserving the retirement age since it would remove older pilots, and thereby offer promotion opportunities. The Air Line Pilots Association has officially supported the retirement rule since 1980. However, the Miami Herald related that a poll released in 2005 showed a divided membership, with 56% favoring the current age rule and 42% advocating change.


Bibliography: Montgomery, Dave, “U.S. pilots battle over low age cap,” The Miami Herald, November 23, 2006, pp. 1C, 2C.


Questions for Discussion:


  1. Should U.S. law be changed to conform to international law regarding the mandatory retirement age for pilots? Why or why not?
  2. Is the U.S. law illegal age discrimination? Why or why not?
  3. Is the U.S. law immoral age discrimination pursuant to Utilitarian and Kantian ethics? Discuss.
  4. How would a major airline approach this issue using the principles of Value-Driven Management? Discuss.