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Sen. Lindsey Graham introduces laws to boost mandatory pilot retirement age to 67

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A pilot views a departure board at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in Newark, Latest Jersey, on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Christopher Occhicone | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Because the country’s pilot shortage fuels flight cuts, Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing laws that might raise the mandatory retirement age for business airline pilots to 67 from 65.

The “Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act” would also require pilots over the age of 65 to keep up a first-class medical certification that should be renewed every six months.

“We have to get more people within the queue to be pilots, but we also must adjust our age in an affordable rational strategy to keep people within the cockpit,” Graham, R-S.C., said at a news conference Monday. “Other countries allow people to fly to 67 and beyond. And I’m confident that this can be a bipartisan issue.”

The proposed laws wouldn’t change another pilot qualifications and would require airlines to proceed using training and qualification programs approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA didn’t immediately comment on the bill. In 2007, the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots was raised to 65 from 60.

The pilot shortage comes after airlines offered early retirement packages through the Covid-19 pandemic as travel demand vanished and training and licensing slowed. Airlines had already been staring down a wave of retirements before the pandemic.

Now, major U.S. airlines are scrambling for methods to draw pilots and get them trained faster. Airlines have also offered scholarships and, in United’s case, opened a flight training academy to assist teach more pilots and ease the financial burden on students.

Earlier within the yr, Delta Air Lines stopped requiring four-year college degrees for its pilots, joining other airlines. And in April, regional carrier Republic Airways petitioned the U.S. government to permit pilots to fly for its airline with 750 flight hours — half of the 1,500-hour requirement — in the event that they went through its training program. There are exemptions to the 1,500-hour rule, corresponding to for military pilots.

Some regional airlines, including for American Airlines, recently announced big pay bumps to draw and retain pilots.

Training for prospective pilots is dear and time-consuming, presenting a significant hurdle for airlines desperate for them. It costs about $92,000 for pilots to get their initial license in a full-time seven-month program at ATP Flight School, the most important flight school within the country. It may well take a further 18 months or longer for a pilot to accumulate enough hours to fly.

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Since 2019, 71% of airports have lost flights, said Drew Remos, senior director of presidency affairs with the Regional Airline Association, on the news conference Monday. Nine airports have lost service completely, he said.

“Under this laws, roughly 5,000 pilots would have the chance to proceed to fly over the following two years, and in turn, help keep communities connected to the air transportation system,” Remos said. “And as early retirements increase, this number will grow providing much more relief.”

In the following 4 years, 14,000 pilots can be forced to retire due to the mandatory retirement age of 65, Graham said Monday.

— CNBC’s Leslie Josephs contributed to this text.

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