On October 30, 2009, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”)issued a report titled Aviation Safety: Information on the Safety Effects of Modifying the Age Standard for Commercial Pilots as a follow up to the 2007 enactment of the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act (49 U.S.C. 44729(a)) (the “Act”) which extended the retirement age for Part 121 air carrier pilots from 60 to 65. The GAO reviewed the FAA’s accident and incident data and NTSB’s accident data from December 2007 through September 2009. The data revealed no accidents or incidents that were caused by the health conditions of pilots 60 years or older, which the GAO interpreted as “no adverse safety effects attributable to the increase in the age limit for pilots.”
However, the GAO noted that its assessment isn’t definitive because the two year period since the Act was passed hasn’t provided flight records for a sufficient enough number of pilots aged 60 and over. The report then observes that “it is premature to conclude that the increase in the age limit for pilots to age 65 will or will not have an impact on a pilot’s performance and aviation safety.”
This report isn’t particularly helpful, given the lack of data and, therefore, limited conclusion. Seems like a very minimalistic attempt to comply with the Act’s requirement to report on the Act’s impact on aviation safety. This is especially true in light of the availability of additional data from international air carriers and Part 135 operators who had previously been employing pilots forced out by the Age 60 rule. Unfortunately the GAO didn’t consider that data. But least a limited conclusion of no adverse impact on aviation safety provides some confirmation for the Act. Better than the alternative, I guess.