Massive flight cancelations inspire call to raise retirement age of pilots

Sen. Lindsey Graham’s ‘Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act’ raises retirement age from 65 to 67
The tens of thousands of canceled flights during the first half of 2022 have sent frustration levels soaring for many travelers, and Sen. Lindsey Graham is no e
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 7:16 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - The tens of thousands of canceled flights during the first half of 2022 have sent frustration levels soaring for many travelers, and Sen. Lindsey Graham is no exception.

“I’m fed up as an air traveler,” Graham said. “What got me going is in one day, I had five or six flights – I can’t remember – canceled.”

The South Carolina Republican held at news conference at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport to announce his “Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act.”

Graham said a pilot shortage is to blame for many of the massive flight cancelations. He said raising the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67 would greatly improve air travel across the country.

“This problem is bad today. It’s going to be a nightmare in coming two years,” Graham said. “By 2026, 14,000 pilots are going to be kicked out of the cockpit for no good reason.”

Graham said the legislation would still require pilots over 65 to maintain a first-class medical certification which must be renewed every six months. Air carriers would be required to continue using pilot training and qualification programs that are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The measure would not change any other requirements - beyond age - to be a commercial airline pilot.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) is a pilot union that represents more than 65,000 pilots at 40 airlines in the United States and Canada. Members of ALPA are opposed to Graham’s legislation.

“This legislation is yet another attempt to distract the conversation from the real issue, which is that some U.S. airlines have clearly failed to plan for the industry’s comeback that we are experiencing today,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA president. “ALPA strongly opposes this proposed legislation, as there is no reason to change the retirement age and doing so would only increase costs for airlines and introduce unnecessary risks to passengers and crew alike.”

Drew Lemos, with the Regional Airline Association, said regional airlines are the exclusive source of passenger air service for two-thirds of the airports across the country and represent 43 percent of departures within the system. Lemos said passenger demand has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but 71 percent of airports, or 315 total, have lost flights since 2019.

“There are approximately 500 fewer regional aircraft operating today than at the end of 2019. This represents a loss of a quarter of the regional fleet,” Lemos said. “Five hundred parked aircraft equates to a deficiency of about 5,000 pilots. The pilot shortage is real, and it will absolutely cause more air service loss.”

ALPA said the “pilot shortage” is a problem that doesn’t exist. The organization said FAA data shows the United States has produced 8,402 pilots within the past 12 months, which is the more than the total number of new pilots in 2019.

“The plain truth is that airlines should take responsibility for their business decisions to cut or reduce service to less-profitable markets while adding service to high-demand communities. Instead, they’re making excuses that aren’t supported in fact or, far worse, calling for regulation rollbacks that would threaten safety,” added DePete.

Graham said pilots’ unions are downplaying the shortage because with the increased demand for services, they are in a more advantageous position to demand higher pay.

“I’m all for pilots to be paid well, what I’m not for is the public to be screwed,” Graham said. “I promise you, this issue will come to the floor of the United States Senate because the traveling public needs some relief, and we need it now.”