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FAA warns Congress about higher pilot ages

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) urged lawmakers in a letter Monday not to raise the mandatory pilot retirement age from 65 to 67 years old, ahead of a committee markup of the FAA reauthorization bill.

In a letter to Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas), FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker asked that the committee not make changes to the federal regulations that govern pilot qualifications without first conducting appropriate research.

“We recognize that other countries have not conducted research prior to increasing their upper age limit, but in the United States, we have the largest, most complex system in the world,” Whitaker wrote.

He added, “In the case of possibly implementing an increase in pilot age, we believe it is crucial to provide the agency an opportunity to conduct research and determine mitigations.”

The letter comes as the Senate is expected to soon mark up the FAA reauthorization bill, after twice voting to temporarily extend the previous authorization bill. The FAA authorization extension will expire next month.

The House approved its version of the FAA reauthorization bill, which included a provision to increase the retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67.

“As Congress considers policies that affect the pool of pilots that may serve Part 121 commercial operations,” Whitaker wrote, “we strongly encourage preceding that type of change with appropriate research so that the FAA can measure any risk associated with that policy and define appropriate mitigations.”

His letter echoes the sentiment of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who wrote to Congress in late January expressing his views about the potential policy shift.

Cantwell acknowledged the concerns about lack of research in a statement responding to the letter.

“When it comes to raising the pilot retirement age, the FAA has made clear that a scientific and safety analysis must come first. That has not happened. Aviation safety is paramount, and now is not the time to take a shortcut,” she said.

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