With pilot shortages affecting rural states disproportionately, U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis on Tuesday announced she is sponsoring legislation designed to help mitigate the problem.
Her bill, the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act, would increase the maximum age that commercial pilots can fly from 65 to 67.
Industry experts say the mandatory retirement age is the number one reason for the shortage.
“Raising the mandatory retirement age to allow pilots to fly for an additional two years would mitigate some of these shortages and help restore rural air service, while ensuring we still have qualified and capable pilots manning our aircraft,” Lummis told Cowboy State Daily.
More than 5,700 pilots retire each year because they hit the mandatory retirement age of 65, Mark Baier, CEO at Aviation Manuals, told FastCompany.
He said by 2029, no baby boomers, under the current age restriction, will be able to fly commercial aircraft.
Another big reason for the shortage is due to early retirement of pilots because of the pandemic. Many airlines offered packages to senior pilots in cost-cutting moves when the pandemic struck.
Pilots don’t usually come out of retirement to fly again. Union rules would not recognize prior seniority which means they would have to start all over again at much lower wages.
Some airlines have taken their own measures to try to solve the problem.
SkyWest, the regional airline that services most of the airports in Wyoming, has plans to remove seats from its aircraft to allow them to fly with fewer passengers.
With a lower seating capacity, the airline can operate the aircraft with pilots who have logged fewer flight hours.
“It is our full intent to hold this new entity to the same high standards of safety, reliability, and service that the SkyWest name has come to represent,” SkyWest’s spokesperson said in a statement last month.
As for Lummis’ legislation, this modifies an earlier law that raised the mandatory retirement age from 60 – 65 back in 2007.
Medical reports concluded age had an ‘insignificant impact’ on performance in the cockpit and there were safety precautions already in place to prevent accidents in case of incapacitation, Lummis said in a statement.
Nothing in this legislation changes current safety and proficiency procedures for commercial pilots. Pilots will continue to be held to an incredibly high standard to ensure passenger safety, she said.
Lummis is co-sponsoring the legislation with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).