EU court rules against Lufthansa pilot retirement rules

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The European Court of Justice has ruled that mandatory retirement of airline pilots at the age of 60, as practised by Lufthansa, constitutes age discrimination and that flight crew should be allowed to work, albeit with certain limitations, until the maximum legal age of 65.

Three former Lufthansa captains had previously complained before German courts that they had to retire at 60 and that their employment contracts should be extended until 65.

International regulations allow airline transport pilot license holders to work until 65. Between 60 and 65, however, they may only fly in a multi-crew environment with one pilot being younger than 60. They have to retire at 65 as the ATPL automatically expires and will not be extended.

However, Lufthansa has a collective agreement with its pilot union, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), which stipulates that flight crew must retire at 60.

The EU court has now ruled that "prohibiting airline pilots from working after the age of 60 constitutes discrimination on grounds of age". The judges argued that "while the right to act as a pilot may be limited from that age [60], total prohibition goes beyond that which is necessary to ensure air traffic safety".

While the court accepted that individual flight crew members might "no longer possess the physical capabilities to carry out their occupational activity", it was only in "very limited circumstances that such a difference in treatment may be justified".

Both Lufthansa and VC said that the mandatory retirement age of their agreement was never a point of disagreement between them. A spokesperson for the airline stated that the rule has been in place since 1956.

A VC spokesman said that the union was not content with the EU court ruling because there was sufficient medical evidence that human performance, such as sight, the ability to concentrate and co-ordination, diminishes with age and that airline pilots should stop flying at 60.

He questioned what medical expertise the court had used to arrive at its decision.

Lufthansa expects an impact by the ruling in the medium term and therefore wants to find a solution in discussions with VC soon.

There will be no immediate impact, as the EU decision will have to be transferred to Germany's Federal Labour Court to be turned into binding law.