THE US FEDERAL Aviation Administration will decide before the end of the year whether to lift the 36-year-old ban which prohibits captains and first officers over the age of 60 from flying large commercial aircraft.

As it now stands, FAR Part 135 rules, which cover the regionals allow pilots to work beyond their 61st birthdays. In moving to eliminate differences between regulations governing Part 135 and Part 121 for major carriers, the FAA must set a common retirement age, and it wants to finalise the new commuter rules by 31 December.

Meanwhile, the FAA wants to harmonise its rules with the European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). The JAA would allow 65-year-old pilots to fly, provided that each flight crew would include one pilot who is younger than 60. The FAA could raise the age limit, but attach similar strings to be consistent.

The FAA's David Harrington, manager air transportation division, says that the FAA now hopes to settle the matter before the end of 1995.

He says that a regulatory team is formulating a draft report and notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for FAA Administrator David Hinson's review. Harrington says that it is too early to predict what the NPRM will contain.

Informed sources who closely monitor the issue, say that, the FAA has three potential courses of action. The first is to retain the age 60 rule and face the wrath of grounded pilots. The second would raise the age limit to 65, but impose stringent medical requirements.

Another option is to require fitness for duty examinations before each flight.

The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) says that the existing retirement rule has worked well and should not be changed. Although safety is an issue, a union member says that it is best to keep the current cut-off age because labour contracts for the large, established US carriers are built around a retirement age of 60. Rule changes would push both sides back to the bargaining table.

Not all pilots and US carriers believe in the status quo. Low-fare airlines, such as Southwest and America West, employ many pilots who are at the beginning of their careers, and retirement is not yet an issue for them.

Their labour contracts are more flexible than those of the majors, and airline managements see advantages in keeping experienced pilots working longer.

Source: Flight International