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IATA Moves to Have Age Limit For Pilots Removed

Landing in New York aboard a Tailwind Air Cessna 208B. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

While the airline industry recovers from the drastic collapse in demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines and airports worldwide are struggling to cope with the sudden uptick in demand triggered by the removal of many restrictions on international mobility.

As the first “normal” summer in three years approaches its final weeks, thousands of passengers have had their travel plans severely affected by delays, cancelations and lost luggage, mainly due to the unpreparedness of some airlines and airports to adequately staff their operations to deal with the expected traffic.

Many workers in the airline industry experiences layoffs and furloughs during the pandemic when companies tried to reduce their cost base in the face of falling revenues. But when travel demand recovered, it was not always easy to rebuild the workforce at previous levels, especially in some positions that require high levels of expertise.

The primary example of this shortage concerns the number of pilots available to operate the schedules designed by the airline planning departments.

Carriers have been warning the industry for quite some time about a potential shortage of pilots that the industry may experience as “baby boomers” start exiting the workforce through retirement and new recruits struggle to replace them due mainly to more stringent conditions to be met in order to qualify for the job but also because of the significant financial costs required to complete the necessary training, which further reduces the pool of candidate to replace incumbent pilots.

Age Limits Imposed Over 100 Years Ago

The pandemic accelerated the retirement process for some of the older pilots and the industry is starting to feel the pain. At the moment the Chicago Convention, the international treaty signed in 1944 that still constitutes the backbone of the regulation governing international commercial aviation, imposes an age limit of 65 for pilots. This limit had originally been set at 45 in 1919 by the International Commission for Air Navigation; then in 1947 ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) took over responsibility from ICAN, without mentioning any age limitation for pilots.

In 1963, ICAO introduced a limit at 60 years of age based on the risks of sudden incapacitation, and ultimately, in 2006, the age was increased to 65 for multi-crew operations (with the second member still due to be under the age of 60) due to the improved life expectancy and health conditions of older people in developed countries.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) representing almost 300 carriers around the world has submitted a paper to the ICAO General Assembly which suggests removing the age limit for pilots. Next September in Montreal, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) will hold its General Assembly, a plenary meeting occurring every three years where all Member States gather to discuss and vote on new provisions to regulate international commercial aviation.

“With demand for air travel anticipated to return to [pre-pandemic] traffic levels in 2023, and then continue on an upward growth path, the demand for commercial pilots is expected to exceed supply,” says the IATA paper as reported by Flightglobal.

“It is therefore timely to revisit legacy age limitation requirements to ensure that they remain fit for purpose, do not represent an unjustified barrier to employment for these critical workers and do [not] constitute de facto age discrimination.”

According to a document published by EASA (European Aviation and Space Agency), Canada, New Zealand, and Australia do not have any age limits for pilots, Japan has increased the mandatory retirement age to 68, while European countries, as well as the United States, have maintained their age limit at 60, although some E.U. member states have filed for exemption requests.

Vanni Gibertini


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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