Airline pilots in the US challenge their unions to raise the retirement age

At 64 years old, pilot Bo Ellis is advocating for a change in his union’s stance to raise the retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67.

For nearly four decades, Bo Ellis has been a dedicated member of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). However, at the age of 64, he is currently leading a campaign against the union’s stance to extend his career as a pilot.

ALPA, along with other pilot unions, is opposing a bill in the U.S. Congress that aims to increase the retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67. The unions argue that this change could introduce new risks to the aviation system as no safety agency has conducted a study on its potential implications.

Nonetheless, the legislation is predicted to provide an option for approximately 5,000 pilots, including Ellis, to continue working for the next two years, according to the Regional Airline Association (RAA).

Extending the age limit by two years would also align pilot retirement with the minimum federal retirement age, enabling them to receive full social security benefits.

Ellis, who serves as a lead pilot at a U.S. carrier, contends that senior pilots are significantly safer due to their extensive experience. He accuses ALPA of politicizing safety and feels that his own union is discriminating against him.

Ellis has co-founded a coalition of thousands of pilots from carriers like Delta, United, American, and Southwest Airlines. This coalition aims to advocate for the legislation and has reached out to over 200 lawmakers.

ALPA released a statement indicating that it carefully considered the matter, and its elected representatives unanimously reaffirmed their opposition to making an arbitrary change in the retirement age.

Rick Redfern, a pilot at Mesa Air who attended ALPA’s October meeting, notes that the union’s board approved its strategic plan containing its age-related position. However, the specific proposal to increase the retirement age to 67 was never brought to the floor for a vote. This account was confirmed by two other pilots present at the meeting.

Internal emails reviewed by Reuters and interviews with a dozen pilots reveal a division among members regarding the age issue. Some pilots requested anonymity due to the potential risk of job loss.

In previously undisclosed developments, Mesa pilots are expected to discuss a proposal seeking a vote on the age limit during ALPA’s national executive council meeting in September, as stated by Redfern.

Redfern, who represents MESA pilots within ALPA, believes that the union needs to gauge the sentiments of its members.

Similarly, ALPA’s unit at United Airlines is conducting a poll on the issue for the first time in 16 years. In an August 3 memo seen by Reuters, ALPA acknowledged the passionate debates surrounding the issue.

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