Sunday, March 26, 2006

To Retire or Not to Retire

In the U.S., pilots have mandatory retirement at age 60.  There is no mandatory retirement age for Flight Attendants.
Although there has much discussion about changing the retirement age, so far it remains.  When the topic comes up, the debate focuses on safety issues, and how the age of pilots factors into that equation.  More and more pilots are supporting extending the retirement age, in large part to recent decimation of their pension funds.  Simply put, many pilots now find themselves financially unable to retire at age 60, and are looking for another few years of flying and earning to get there.
Last week, British Airways announced it's intention to increase the retirement age for its pilots and Flight Attendants.  B.A. crews have reacted dramatically at this news, and have announced that will take industrial action in retaliation to the company's unilateral decision.  Seems they have a different view of extending the retirement age than their U.S. counterparts.
Regardless of where you stand on this issue, caution would be advised if you are planning on flying British Airways.


Andrew said...

Very interesting difference there -- and sort of encapsulates a lot of political debate in a nutshell.

Since (IIRC) in Britain pensions are provided by the government, it makes sense to retire as early as possible -- why not take that cheque (as they spell it) and not have to work? In the US, since pensions are (these days) typically an employee's own responsibility, you might want to work longer to save up. It encapsulates both sides: in Britain your financial future is more certain, but in the US you have an actual incentive to work that you don't necessarily have there.

(Of course, IMHO the really serious problem is that these pilots -- and other airplane employees -- toiled away for years expecting $X for their retirement, and suddenly find they have much less than that due to the very recent financial performance of the airline and/or actions of the airline's management. That seems grossly unfair, and like something that no system should permit, no matter how it's set up.)

Fly Girl said...

Yes, that is certainly one of the big differences -- guaranteed pensions.

Of course, many airline employees thought that their pensions were guaranteed -- only to find out that the airlines had chosen not to make those guaranteed payments. Then, the bankruptcy courts and government lets them down even more by saying that it's okay for the airlines to do this.

There are plusses and minusses to both systems, obviously, but one thing is clear -- there is no one policing the abuses of the systems.

Astroprof said...

The reasoning behind a mandatory retirement age of 60 for pilots would presumably be for safety purposes. Older people have slower reflexes and so forth. However, with modern medical care, I know a lot of people in their 60s and 70s who quite easily keep up with people in their 40s. So, perhaps there should be mandatory testing every 4 months or so for pilots over 60, and they can keep working until they no longer pass the tests. With airlines backing out of pension promises, and those pensions not keeping up with expenses, then it is understandable that pilots, or anyone else, would want to work as long as possible.

Fly Girl said...

Captains are required to have FAA physicals every 6 months, First Officers once a year. This is part of maintaining the required medical.

Unfortunately, all too often the physicians authorized to perform these physicals do a cursory job. Last I knew, these physicals did not include a stress test, EEG, or EKG.

I wouldn't oppose raising the mandatory retirement age beyond 60 if there were REAL physicals done. But since there isn't, 60 is just fine with me.

Yes, this means that some very healthy and qualified people will be forced to retire when they are medically able to do the job. But until the pilot group polices their own on this issue, broad policy-making will have to do.