Journal of Air Law and Commerce


In its relatively short history, public air travel has seen its fair share of airline pilot shortages. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry was facing yet another. There was virtually no part of the airline industry untouched by the pandemic, and pilot supply was no exception. As an attempt to mitigate profit loss, airlines offered pilots early retirement packages. When air travel returned to pre-pandemic numbers earlier than expected, airlines struggled to fill cockpit seats, which was a major factor in causing the extensive flight cancellations and delays in 2022.

Legislators sought to alleviate the issue by raising the federally mandated retirement age. In 2022, a bill was introduced to raise the age to from sixty-five to sixty-seven. The lawmakers behind the bill provided one reason for this change: to relieve the pilot shortage. They blamed the pilot shortage on the demographic; the majority of airline pilots are baby boomers nearing retirement.

There are a few issues with this proposal. The first is the discriminatory nature of the law itself. Raising the age by two years is a step in the right direction, but it is just as arbitrary as the Age Sixty-Five Rule. The second issue is the lack of impact it would have on the pilot supply. The two-year increase is not going to achieve the lawmakers’ purpose because it does not incentivize pilots to keep working. The third issue is that the proposal does not confront the larger cause for the pilot shortage: the excessive training requirements for pilots to earn their commercial pilot’s license.

This Article first examines the legality of the airline pilot age limit and the court challenges it has overcome. It confronts the superfluousness of the mandatory retirement age, arguing that an age limit is superseded by the regular aircraft simulator trainings and medical examinations airline pilots are required to pass in order to keep flying. This Article then critiques the 1,500 Hour Rule and assesses other causes of the pilot shortage. Finally, it argues that there are other, better ways to bolster the pilot supply in the United States.



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)