The US House of Representatives have voted to increase the commercial airline pilot age to 65, clearing the way for a near half-century old regulation that limits maximum pilot age to 60 to be overturned.

In a vote held yesterday evening, Republicans and Democrats unanimously passed Bill HR 4343, the so-called “Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act”, which was cosponsored by seven representatives, including influential Congressman John Mica.

The legislation, if approved by the Senate, will permit pilots to serve in multi-crew Part 121 operations until reaching the age of 65, providing they have a first-class medical certificate, which must be renewed every six months. International flights from the USA would still require at least one pilot to be under age 60, per ICAO’s standards.

Also under the bill, airlines would continue to use pilot training and qualification programs approved by the FAA, “with specific emphasis on initial and recurrent training and qualification of pilots who have attained 60 years of age”, to ensure continued acceptable levels of pilot skill and judgment.

Additionally, every six months airlines must evaluate the performance of each pilot who has attained 60 years of age “through a line check of such pilot”.

Significantly, the legislation would not require airlines to hire back pilots who retire before the date of the law’s enactment. Should an over-60 pilot be newly hired by an airline after date of enactment, he or she would not receive credit for prior seniority or longevity.

Current US law, put in place in 1959, limits both pilots’ maximum age to 60. A pilot retirement age provision was originally included in a larger bill to reauthorize FAA programs that the House passed in September. But with the FAA bill unlikely to see action in the Senate this year, key House legislators pushed for passage of standalone legislation.

American Airlines’ pilots union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), has fought to keep the current age-60 retirement in place. In an online message decrying passage of the House bill, the union says: “This bill was hastily created today and stripped the language increasing the airline pilot retirement standard to 65 out of the FAA reauthorization bill, where we had previously had it tied up, and put it into its own standalone legislation.

“Our efforts today to have HR 4343 removed from the House agenda failed and the bill was pushed through with a number of other bills as lawmakers proceeded with pre-holiday clearing of their calendar. While this was a blow to our efforts to maintain the current standard, we will now have to determine how the legislators intend to marry up this bill with companion legislation in the US Senate.”