Last month, I shared with you that this summer is expected to mark a new historic high in commercial airline passenger volumes, breaking the previous record set in 2019. One of the unforeseen side effects of the current travel boom has been flight delays, mostly because of staff shortages, and this has raised the issue of pilot retirements.
Not too many people are aware that pilots in the U.S. must retire at age 65, due to federal regulations. That may be set to change, however, if a just-passed bill succeeds in becoming law.
On Thursday, in a bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives approved the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, which, among other things, authorizes more than $100 billion for airline operations, equipment and airports over five years. It also (controversially) raises the pilot retirement age from 65 to 67.
The new legislation will now need to be negotiated between the House and the Senate to move forward. If it doesn’t pass by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, when the current FAA law expires, crucial aviation programs could be at risk of being shut down.
I’ve written before about the pilot shortage, arguing that a reasonable supply deficit could actually encourage airlines to demonstrate capacity growth discipline and focus on the most profitable routes. I still support this idea, but others see a potential crisis brewing.
A “Tsunami” of Pilot Retirements?
Testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in April, Regional Airline Association (RAA) President and CEO Faye Malarkey Black warned of a “coming tsunami of pilot retirements.” The shortage has resulted in more than 500 regional aircraft being grounded, Black said, and a 25% reduction in flights at 308 airports, mostly smaller ones.
Further, the shortage of pilots, particularly captains, is forecast to be exacerbated as approximately 50% of the workforce will retire in the next 15…