(Updates to include House bill in the fifth paragraph)
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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is introducing legislation to increase the retirement age for commercial pilots to 67 from 65, as airlines contend with labor shortages that have caused them to trim their flight schedules.
The older retirement age is backed by some aviation groups facing labor challenges, but is opposed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and pilot unions over safety concerns. Graham’s measure, called the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act, would mandate that pilots older than 65 maintain first-class medical certification and require air carriers to continue training approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“We just don’t have enough pilots over time to keep the skies working the way they should,” Graham, who is 67 years old, said at a press conference at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina on Monday. In the next two years 5,000 pilots will hit the mandatory retirement age, he added. “This problem is bad today, it is going to be a nightmare in the coming two years,” he said.
US air carriers have struggled to manage recent demand, with 3.2% of flights canceled and 20% delayed during the first five months of the year. Some airlines have pointed to labor challenges. The legislation is “critical to help address the pilot shortage,” Regional Airline Association’s Drew Lemos said at the press conference.
House lawmakers are proposing companion legislation to Graham’s. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) plans to introduce the House bill Tuesday. The measure would “immediately alleviate the consequences of this artificial shortage,” Roy said in a statement Monday.
Lawmakers last increased the pilot retirement age, to 65 from 60, in 2007. Proposals to address the pilot shortage are likely to draw more attention as lawmakers start work on the next FAA reauthorization bill ahead of a Sept. 30, 2023, deadline.
Graham said he is “confident if we had a vote on this legislation on the floor of the United States Senate, it would pass,” and that if Republicans take the Senate in November, it will come to the floor.
Opponents argued in 2007 that increasing the age of retirement would be a safety risk. Officials and pilot groups, including the Air Line Pilots Association, have pushed back in recent months on the idea of raising the age again.
“I’m much more interested in raising the bar on things like compensation and job quality than lowering the bar on something like safety,” Buttigieg said on Fox News earlier this month.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org