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ALPA Accused of Breaching Duty by Opposing Higher Pilot Retirement Age

A group representing thousands of pilots and aviation professionals is suing ALPA over a so-called 'anti-senior pilot campaign.'

Pilot executing pre-flight procedures in a commercial airliner cockpit before takeoff. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A coalition representing senior pilots has sued the world’s largest pilot union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), accusing it of failing to fairly represent their interests under the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The Jan. 27 complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, centers on ALPA’s opposition to a bill that would raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67, according to Law360.

The lawsuit criticizes ALPA’s public-facing action against the bill, accusing the union of making “disingenuous, misleading or false” statements about safety concerns with older pilots while engaging in a so-called “anti-senior pilot campaign.” LEPF asserts there’s no scientific basis for these claims and views them as discriminatory and harmful to older pilots’ reputations.

Described in the complaint as a group of “thousands of pilots and other professionals in the aviation industry,” Let Experienced Pilots Fly Inc. (LEPF) argues that ALPA’s stance against the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act undermines the labor group’s duty of fair representation. They claim the union prioritizes younger pilots, despite the industry facing a severe pilot shortage. The group believes raising the retirement age would alleviate this issue.

They allege ALPA’s opposition stems from a desire to expedite career progression opportunities for younger members by reducing competition from senior pilots. However, LEPF emphasizes that ALPA’s duty is to represent all pilots fairly, regardless of age.

“ALPA’s wrongful actions are intentionally directed against an older, more senior minority group within the union and are arbitrary, discriminatory, and done in bad faith,” the complaint reads. “ALPA is actively spreading lies and innuendo against this minority group, whose members faithfully pay millions of dollars in union dues each year with the expectation that ALPA will fairly and in good faith represent their interests and abide by ALPA’s duty of fair representation owed to all ALPA members.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring ALPA in breach of its duty and forcing the union to retract its statements about older pilots. The group also demands that ALPA not make similar statements in the future.

ALPA Rebuts Complaint

ALPA refutes the accusations, calling the lawsuit a “publicity stunt.” The union maintains that continued opposition to the bill is based on legitimate concerns about air safety and compliance with international regulations. The union highlights the lack of scientific studies specifically focused on raising the retirement age and emphasizes the potential conflict with existing age limits set by international bodies.

ALPA further argues that the bill wouldn’t solve the pilot shortage and could even exacerbate it by creating a backlog of pilots needing retraining. Additionally, it warns of increased costs associated with renegotiating labor contracts if the retirement age changes.

“ALPA’s governing board of directors — made up of representatives directly elected by ALPA-member pilots — unanimously adopted the union’s policy opposing legislation to raise the mandatory pilot-retirement age set by Congress,” the union said in a statement to Law360.

In the statement, ALPA firmly defends its position on safety, citing studies suggesting increased health risks and cognitive decline with age. It points to data at Part 135 operators – which do not have a mandatory retirement age – showing higher fatal accident rates for pilots over 65. However, LEPF disputes the validity of the specific study ALPA frequently cites.

Debate Over Age Hike ‘Not Over’

On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee narrowly rejected a proposal to raise the mandatory retirement age at Part 121 air carriers. The debate in Congress to hike the age to 67 isn’t over yet, says the Allied Pilots Association (APA) – which represents nearly 15,000 American Airlines pilots. Similar to ALPA, the APA also opposes the proposed legislation.

“While today’s Senate committee vote is a significant development, the debate to raise the age is still not over. Once S.1939 reaches the Senate floor for a vote, this provision could be offered again as an amendment to the bill. Additionally, the Senate bill’s differences with the House bill will need to be reconciled in what is called a ‘conference.’ The House of Representatives has included the increase to age 67 in their version,” the APA said as part of an article.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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