Airline pilots have strict requirements compared to other pilot licenses and roles.
One of these is an age limit necessary to become an airline pilot, as well as having to retire at a certain age.
Age Limits for Airline Pilots
Minimum Age of Airline Pilots
Airline pilots operate under an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), which requires a minimum age of 23 to be issued.
There is also a Restricted Airline Pilot Transport License (R-ATPL), which can be issued at a minimum age of 21.
This license allows a pilot to be first-officer (co-pilot) of a commercial airliner.
Maximum Age of Airline Pilots
This is in line with FAR Part 121 (Federal Aviation Regulations).
This also means that a pilot will not be able to renew their airline transport license once they reach 65 years old.
All airline pilots also need to be issued with a first-class medical certificate to be eligible for an airline transport pilot license.
If this medical exam is failed, a pilot will no longer be able to fly as a pilot for a commercial airline, even if they are younger than 65.
Why do pilots have to retire at 65?
While many airline pilots might not like having to retire at 65, the FAA believes that the physical and mental strain of flying becomes too hard to meet, which puts the safety of passengers at risk.
Why age 65 in particular, though?
Well, as the FAA put it when the mandatory retirement age of 60 was introduced in 1960, “there is a progressive deterioration of certain important physiological and psychological functions with age.”
This was according to the medical evidence available at the time.
The retirement age was increased to 65 in 2007 for pilots serving in 14 CFR part 121 air carrier operations – i.e. airline pilots.
Why Might an Airline Pilot Be Forced to Retire Early?
Every airline pilot must hold a first-class medical certificate, which has several standards that need to be met.
An aviation medical examiner (AME) will test a pilot’s vision, hearing, and a few other things before being able to issue the certificate.
Distant vision of 20/20 in each eye, with or without correction, must be met. Near vision must be correctable to 20/40 or better in each eye, as measured at 32 inches.
If a pilot is over 50 years old, intermediate vision must also be tested. In this case, vision must be correctable to 20/40 or better in each eye, as measured at 32 inches.
When it comes to color vision, the FAA states that the “ability to perceive those colors necessary for safe performance of airman duties” is required. A color vision test is therefore issued.
Besides this, an ECG must be taken at age 35 and annually after age 40, blood pressure must not exceed 155/95, a pilot must not suffer from substance dependence or abuse, or any mental or other disqualifying condition either.
What jobs can airline pilots forced into retirement get?
There is a whole world outside flying for a commercial airline that retired airline pilots can enjoy.
As there is no maximum age limit for a commercial pilot license, there are still many opportunities and job roles that pilots over 65 are eligible and can be financially compensated for.
Charter, corporate and private jet operators will still hire. In fact, due to the nature of some of these operators’ clients, seeing older, highly experienced pilots in the cockpit can be a reassuring sign and considered a plus.
Flight instructor roles are also available, which can be hugely rewarding and a welcome change of pace to airline travel.
Other roles include aerial survey work, ferrying, sightseeing, and tours, to name a few.
Do retired pilots fly for free?
While the specifics depend on the individual airline, retired pilots can generally fly for free as long as they worked for the airline full-time for a minimum of ten years, and retire in good standing.
Is 50 too old to become an airline pilot?
50 isn’t too old to become an airline pilot, but a pilot looking to fly for a commercial airline should keep their expectations in check.
If someone has never taken any form of flight training before, it will be several years before they will be able to fulfill all the requirements necessary to obtain an airline transport pilot license, including completing a minimum of 1,500 flight hours.
If someone already holds a private pilot or commercial pilot license, it is more of a viable option. However, it will still be an uphill battle.
While stories of pilots being hired by airlines at 50 and beyond exist, they are rare.