House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster failed in his bid to privatize ATC, but pilots for fractional giant NetJets say the Pennsylvania lawmaker has another trick up his sleeve: mandatory age 65 retirement for certain Part 135 charter and Part 91K fractional pilots, written into the FAA reauthorization bill now before Congress. Pilots claim the new demand came after a specific request by NetJets management.
A so-called manager’s amendment to HR 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, establishes age 65 limits for Part 135 and fractional operations at the largest of operators. In fact, the way the bill is written NetJets would be the only company affected by the law. In the United States, Part 121 airline pilots are subject to mandatory age 65 retirement, but not other professional pilots.
NetJets pilots charge that the provision was slipped into the bill at the 11th hour by Shuster at the behest of NetJets, which wants to force out older pilots in favor of younger ones, a strategy they say will save the company millions of dollars at the expense of some 700 pilots who will lose their jobs over the next few years.
“NetJets senior management has decided that hundreds of its loyal, highly trained and experienced aviators are ‘unsafe’ — or too costly — based solely on a pilot’s age,” a NetJets pilot, who asked not to be identified, told Flying. “This is not about pilot safety. This is about saving money. NetJets believes it can save millions of dollars by firing its older pilots, and without any sort of retirement benefits.”
The highly influential AARP, with its 38 million members, agrees. The group sent a letter to Congress opposing the amendment, saying fitness to fly shouldn’t be based on an indiscriminate age limit.
“AARP has long opposed mandatory retirement. Using an arbitrary age as a proxy for competence is wrong in any occupation, and it is wrong for pilots,” the association wrote in a letter to Shuster and Transportation Committee ranking member Pete DeFazio. “Pilots should be judged on the basis of their individual ability, flying skills and their health, not on stereotypes or mistaken assumptions about their fitness based on age.”
Like other professional pilots, NetJets flight crews are subject to regular aviation medical exams and check rides, which they must pass to continue flying.
NetJets pilots in online message forums have complained that the earmark in HR 4 gives special treatment to a single company, and that differences between NetJets and its pilots union should be hammered out between labor and management, not in a federal bill.
Meanwhile, not everybody agrees that NetJets pilots will be the only ones affected by the action.
“Though it may initially be directed at Netjets, it seems that such an arbitrary, unnecessary regulation could easily migrate into all Part 135, 91K and 91 private operations, causing great harm to business aviation,” the NetJets pilot said. “There is no need to further increase government regulations for this non-issue. Neither evidence, nor studies, nor safety incidents support a need for age 65 mandatory retirement for general aviation pilots.”
Others have pointed out that the law, if enacted, could exacerbate the growing pilot shortage by forcing companies like NetJets to find younger qualified crews, many of which would presumably come from the airlines. Many older NetJets pilots, in fact, say they eschewed airline careers and the mandatory retirement that job entails in favor of being able to work longer for a company like NetJets.
The bottom line, the NetJets pilot said, is “We need the jobs.”