IATA is seeking a review of commercial pilot age limits to help relieve forecast demand for cockpit crews.

It has submitted a paper to the upcoming ICAO Assembly which refers to the age limit of 65 imposed on pilots by the Chicago Convention.

The paper urges ICAO to examine the latest scientific evidence to multi-crew pilot age restrictions, stating that limited availability of skilled aviation personnel represents a “constraint” on the industry’s ability to recover from the pandemic.

ICAO’s limit has been in place since November 2006, having been raised from 60 and, before then, from the original threshold of 45.

“With demand for air travel anticipated to return to [pre-pandemic] traffic levels in 2023, and then continue on an upward growth path, the demand for commercial pilots is expected to exceed supply,” says the IATA paper.

“It is therefore timely to revisit legacy age limitation requirements to ensure that they remain fit for purpose, do not represent an unjustified barrier to employment for these critical workers and do [not] constitute de facto age discrimination.”

cockpit-c-Unsplash Blake Guidry

Source: Unsplash/Blake Guidry

Mandatory pilot retirement at age 65 has been in place since 2006

The current 65-year cut-off is based on the outcome of studies including simulator assessments.

“These studies showed that the risk to the safe operation of an aircraft associated with subtle pilot incapacitation at a critical stage of flight was very low,” argues the paper.

It adds that a continuing upward trend in life expectancy – plus automation, modern simulation, and awareness training – have all reduced the risk of sudden incapacitation.

“Forced curtailment of licence privileges is applied despite a requirement for pilots to continue to pass the rigorous medical and simulator assessments, right up until the day before [they turn 65],” the paper states.

“This age limitation does not apply to domestic aviation and, in many states, [multi-crew] air transport pilots are permitted to operate domestic flights beyond the age of 65.”