In the U.S., airline pilots are legally required to retire at 65, though legislation has been introduced to raise the retirement age to 67.
In most other countries around the world, the mandatory retirement age of pilots is also 65 due to international aviation rules and not necessarily any regulation set by the government.
The retirement age has been set by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO).
However, some civil aviation authorities, that have the final say when a pilot must retire, have extended the retirement age to address a shortage of pilots, such as in Japan where pilots are only required to retire at 67 instead of 65.
Individual airlines may have different retirement ages, so pilots working for these airlines will have to retire earlier.
Previously, in the U.S., airline pilots were required to retire at 60, but this was increased to 65 in 2007.
Why Do Pilots Have a Mandatory Retirement Age?
Airline pilots must retire at 65 due to concerns about:
- Reduced sensory acuities (visual and auditory)
- Decreased pilot proficiency (including reaction time and the ability to function under stress)
- Increased risk of pilot incapacity due to medical conditions
It is the increased risk of pilot incapacity due to medical conditions that is the main reason pilots must retire at 65.
Arguments Against Pilots Having a Mandatory Retirement Age
While the data isn’t completely up to date, data studied from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data from 1975-1982, attributed 3 crashes in 1000, or 15 of 1000 fatal crashes due to pilot medical incapacitation.
While the data suggested that the likelihood of incapacitation increased with age, the risk of incapacitation was lower for pilots than among the general population.
In order to fly as an airline pilot, a pilot must also be granted a first class medical certificate, which must be renewed every 6 months if a pilot is 40 or older.
Additionally, there have been major strides in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions, such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia, that precede cardiac events, and people are staying healthier for longer and live longer, too.
Modern aircraft are also easier to fly today, with several protections built into their systems.
Legislation to Raise the Retirement Age of Pilots
In July 2022, Senator Lindsey Graham introduced legislation that would raise the mandatory retirement age of airline pilots from 65 to 67.
This legislation, which is called the “Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act”, is designed to address the current pilot shortage in the U.S.
Airline pilots over 65 will still need to maintain first-class medical certification that must be renewed every 6 months.
Under this legislation, approximately 5,000 pilots would have the opportunity to continue to fly for a further two years.
Can 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.
Can Retired Pilots Still Fly Commercially?
Retired airline pilots are still able to fly commercially.
Charter, corporate and private jet operators will still hire retired airline pilots.
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.
When Do Private Pilots Have to Retire?
There is no mandatory retirement age for private pilots who fly for leisure.
As long as the pilot can pass a medical to obtain a third class medical certificate, they are still able to fly.
What Do Pilots Do After Retiring?
Unless a retired airline pilot wants to find another commercial pilot role, including working as a flight instructor, as it can be very rewarding, they do what most other people do after they retire.
So this can be taking up or focusing more on a hobby, spending more time with family and friends, and doing volunteer work.
Is There a Maximum Age to Become an Airline Pilot?
As mentioned, pilots are required to retire at 65, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that aspiring older pilots will be able to work for an airline.
While 50 isn’t too old to become an airline pilot, a pilot looking to fly for an 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.
Aspiring pilots who are 40 are more likely to be hired by airlines, as they will still be able to work for an airline for a couple of decades.
Is There a Minimum Age to Become an Airline Pilot?
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.