France's National Assembly will tomorrow vote on a change in the law which proposes increasing French commercial pilots' maximum retirement age from 60 to 65 years and that of cabin crew from 55 to 65.

A 1997 decree restricts French airline pilots over the age of 60 from operating commercial flights. The rule does not apply to foreign carriers, which can operate services to, over and within France in accordance with their own national and corporate policies.

Jean Serrat, who leads French pilot group PNT65, labels the existing French regulations as "insane" and has led a long-running campaign for the retirement age limit to be lifted to 65, in line with ICAO norms.

Serrat tells ATI that a three-part amendment, increasing the age limits, has been backed by the Assembly's social affairs committee. He adds that the text will be put to a National Assembly vote tomorrow. In its current format, the amendment proposes implementation of the new retirement limit on 1 January 2010.

If the Assembly backs the motion, it will be passed to the Senate for a final vote within two to three weeks. Once this process is completed, it will be signed into law by French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Serrat says: "If [both houses] pass the vote, the limit will be set to 65 for both pilots and flight attendants. A lot of the members of parliament (MPs) are on our side, but others are on the side of the CGT and SNPL [pilots' unions], which want to go on strike.

"I really think that the MPs are going to vote for it. I can't say what will happen in three weeks' time. Tomorrow I think we are going to win, but it is just one battle - not the war."

He adds that other French pilots' bodies have reacted angrily to the changes and are threatening to strike if the vote is successful. He claims that this opposition is based on a potential slow-down in seniority list progression and the loss of a tax-free payout, totalling nine months' salary, which is paid upon reaching the age limit.

But he stresses that, while the first two amendments separately lift the pilot and cabin crew maximum retirement age to 65, the third gives the crew members the option to request a ground-based position when they reaching the former age limits - in accordance with the status quo.

These requests, says Serrat, cannot be fulfilled by the company and therefore the nine-month tax-free payout would remain in place. "We have tried to find a way to be compatible with everyone's needs. If people want to leave at [the current age limit], they will get nine months' pay without income tax," he explains.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news