How Old Should Your Pilot Be?

What if you’re 59 years old and you’re not ready to retire? It’s no big deal for most professions, but for airline pilots it means you’re applying for a Canadian pilots license so you can fly with Air India, like Mike Ballard:

Ballard said he needs a Canadian license to land a job with Air India that would help offset the pension he lost during United’s bankruptcy. While India allows pilots to fly until age 65, authorities there are balking at certifying U.S.-licensed pilots who are no longer eligible to fly for their home airlines.

“It’s so frustrating that you almost have to laugh,” said Ballard, who retired Sept. 1 and is among thousands of pilots whose careers are in limbo as legislation that would raise the retirement age moves through Congress. The FAA, which also has authority to change the regulation, has yet to propose new retirement rules, much less implement them. That process could take two years.

Some pilots think the age requirement is just fine:

…David Aldrich, 55, an American Airlines captain, advocates keeping the current rules. “How many guys who want to stay [on the job] are on to their third wife with a 7-year-old at home, and ‘Oops, I got to 60’? That’s your problem, not the traveling public’s,” said Aldrich

David Aldrich is hilarious. We wonder if he says that sort of stuff over the speaker. Anyway, does a 65 year old pilot freak you out? We think 60 is the new 50, bring on the old pilots.

U.S. pilots landing in age limbo [Chicago Tribune]


Edit Your Comment

  1. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    I say no older than 45 and no younger than 30 with no less than 5 years training/experience.

  2. jamesdenver says:

    I’m a 32 year old private pilot, and I’d rather have a grizzled experienced pilot than an inexperienced newbie anyday. As long as your mind and body are in sound healthy, I believe it SHOULD be raised to 65.

  3. TechnoDestructo says:

    If there’s a copilot who ISN’T really old, and the guy is getting regular physical examinations, I don’t see what the problem is. In fact it seems to me that would be ideal. Pair youth with experience.

  4. TechnoDestructo says:

    Hell, why not 165, as long as the pilot is healthy/can still see/think straight?

  5. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    “How many guys who want to stay [on the job] are on to their third wife with a 7-year-old at home, and ‘Oops, I got to 60’?

    This is exactly why I didn’t marry an airline pilot. The attrition rate for wives is staggering!

  6. Buran says:

    No, this is ridiculous and it is age discrimination. The testing needs to be ability-based and not have any bearing on how old you are. If you can do your job and meet all the standards, why not keep you on? You should not be fired because you refused to retire at a certain age.

    Why do we allow this when elsewhere we can sue if we are discriminated against by age?

    All professions where ability, reflexes, and other skills are required to do your job safely (and that includes driving) should not have age limits BUT should have frequent testing, growing more frequent with age (because it is known that reflexes can and will decrease with age, but this varies by individuals).

    Can’t pass the test? Then you get laid off. CAN pass the test? Firing you is illegal age discrimination.

  7. TWinter says:

    I am all for very rigorous testing and no age limits – I’ve seen folks who are already starting to loose it in their 50s and others who are still fit and sharp as a tack into their 80s.

    And the exact effect of age is only going to get smaller as we conquer more diseases and lifestyle has an ever greater influence on how we age.

  8. othium says:

    “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. But there are no old AND bold pilots.”

    To me, it’s all about experience. I would feel much safer with an older, more experienced pilot than a younger one. Situations arise that aren’t covered in training schools and an older pilot who has dealt with them before will know the correct procedure to ensure the safest outcome.

    Just my opinion..

  9. Don Roberto says:

    A 60-year-old with a 7-year-old child freaks me out even more.

  10. breny says:

    I want the oldest, grizzliest, most battle-hardened pilot they can find. I want the guy that flew while someone was shooting at him and lived to tell about it.

    I’ve always thought the age cutoff was arbitrary and unnecessary. I don’t understand the concept of “today you’re fit to fly but tomorrow you’re not fit to fly.”

  11. Jesse in Japan says:

    I say we should pair old pilots with young co-pilots so that the average age of the two works out to be something like 35 or 40. That way, you’ve got the experience of a seasoned pilot coupled with the reflexes of a young pilot.

  12. ChChChacos says:

    I am a student at Purdue University in their flight program,and I currently hold a private pilot license. Last year’s gradutes walked out of here with between 300-500 hours of accumulated flight time and were hired with major carriers such as Continental for their regional jets. I do not see any problem with their “little” hours in their knowledge and capabilities. Purdue has some of the best training around, as well as a 737 simulator that is so realistic the FAA allows you to log flight hours in it. Therefore I think proper training is what’s most important, as far as age.. I don’t see a problem at all. And if you can pass the FAA medical, you should be able to fly no matter what your age is.. and if you’re 60 and still want to fly then so be it.

  13. JustIcedCoffee says:

    Pilots are both tested strenuously every couple years, and time age based. Commercial Air pilots are not only responsible for themselves but the lifes of the 100s of people on the plan (consumers).
    I if the pilots doe not have enough saved up for retirement with a 300,000 a year job — I’m not sure why we would ever want them to continue to fly if they are that irresponsible.

  14. infinitysnake says:

    I wouldn’t care about age, but health. If the pilot is 35 with diabetes and poor habits, I’ll take thye old guy. (or gal)

  15. synergy says:

    I don’t care how old my pilot is as long as s/he can actually do it. I’d say they should maybe pass an annual competency test after, say, age 55 or 60. Things like thinking and acting appropriately under pressure as well as testing reflexes and memory would be a good idea. As long as those are intact, I don’t care. I know grandmothers I’d trust better than some people my age on things like that.

  16. synergy says:

    Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
    Captain Oveur: Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?
    Tower voice: Tower’s radio clearance, over!
    Captain Oveur: That’s Clarence Oveur. Over.
    Tower voice: Over.
    Captain Oveur: Roger.
    Roger Murdock: Huh?

  17. Thain says:


    Wow…you don’t know much about pilots, do you? My brother was a chief pilot at ASA before the Delta buyout, and had been since he was 26. Age has very little to do with determining experience. When he first got his pilot’s license, he calmly landed in a power loss situation that scared his seasoned flight instructor/friend gormless. Age really has nothing to do with it at all.

  18. swalve says:

    @JustIcedCoffee: $300,000 is rare for a pilot to make.

  19. mac-phisto says:

    @JustIcedCoffee: who says it has anything to do w/ retirement? my uncle just retired as a captain for continental & he has plenty of money in the bank. doesn’t change the fact that he loved to fly. he still does.

    the tests that pilots are required to undergo to make sure they are physically capable of the job are pretty rigorous – i don’t see any problem with letting them continue as long as they pass their tests. i prefer older pilots over younger ones. at least i don’t have to worry about whether this is their first run in a wide-body after flying puddle-jumpers for 6 months.