Airline pilots in the USA appear closer than ever to overturning a 43-year-old rule forcing them to retire at the age of 60, according to the Professional Pilots Federation (PPF), a body formed to challenge the legislation. Meanwhile, the US Air Line Pilots' Association (ALPA) has welcomed an assurance from the US Federal Aviation Administration that it is clamping down on breaches of crew duty-time rules.

The PPF attack, which is based on constitutional and legal grounds, claims the original 1959 FAA ruling was created under false pretences. PPF member Dan Hill says documents reveal the ruling was created by the first FAA administrator, Elwood Quesada, to help then-American Airlines chairman C R Smith solve a pilots dispute.

Documents and memos uncovered by the PPF show that "Quesada defrauded the US government. There never was anything to substantiate that there were any safety issues relative to the age-60 rule," Hill says. The International Civil Aviation Organisation's standard for pilot retirement age is also 60 years.

The PPF's initial attempt to revoke the ruling was blocked in the US Congress as part of the post-11 September legislative fall-out. The motion is now attached to the Homeland Security Bill currently passing through the US Senate. Simultaneously, petitions to the FAA by 10 pilots asking to be exempted from forced retirement must be approved or denied by mid-October. Should they be denied, as the PPF expects, a lawsuit will be filed which it says will expose the alleged fraud.

Meanwhile, US pilots have accepted an assurance by the FAA that crew duty-time regulations are now being applied by the book. The FAA says it is also redrafting rules to "clarify" them, and expects to have a new notice of proposed rulemaking on the problem of crew duty-time by "the end of the year".

ALPA has put out a circular telling its members to notify it of any airline breaches of the maximum 16h duty period.

Source: Flight International