Flying Off Into the Sunset Commercial Airline Term Paper

Pages: 13 (3488 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 20  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Transportation

Flying Off Into the Sunset

Commercial Airline Pilots and Mandatory Retirement

There once was a time when our world seemed so much more orderly, so much more organized. One was born, went to school, grew up, got a job, and spent the best years of one's life at the same company.

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Then came age fifty-five, or age sixty-five at some companies, and it was time to retire. And one could expect a comfortable retirement. There would be a good pension, free Healthcare, Social Security, and in general, enough time to relax and enjoy life. Many large corporations and government agencies had specific mandatory retirement ages. In large part this system of mandatory retirement was designed to facilitate the advancement of younger personnel. Positions in management were opened up to members of the next generation. In some fields, however, mandatory retirement was justified on different grounds. In these cases, older employees were believed to be more prone to accidents and error than their less senior counterparts. Older employees might also be considered out of touch with the latest developments. They'd been too long out of training, or out of school, and could not be expected to know the same things that the new people knew. One industry in which this system of mandatory retirement was particularly prevalent was in the realm of commercial aviation. As a matter of course, pilots were retired when they reached a certain age. Not only did they make way for the younger pilots, but their removal was considered the same as "preventing accidents" that were bound to happen. Thus, the system of mandatory retirement in the commercial aviation industry was as much a matter of public safety as of sound business policy.

As stated above, one of the strongest reasons put forward for mandatory early retirement is the supposed diminishing ability of older workers.

Term Paper on Flying Off Into the Sunset Commercial Airline Assignment

Age-performance related issues are among the strongest rationalizations offered in favor of mandatory retirement. These rationalizations take essentially two interrelated forms. First, it is argued that mandatory retirement enables older workers to "retire with dignity," for example, with a perception that they retired because of a personnel policy applicable to all employees. If mandatory retirement is eliminated, there may be a social stigma to retirement because it may be perceived as an indication of competence or performance problems. Second, it is argued that mandatory retirement minimizes the need to monitor and assess job performance of older employees. It is claimed that workers nearing mandatory retirement age are generally permitted to continue their employment without careful review even if their job performance deteriorates below the acceptable level. If mandatory retirement is eliminated, employers will be obligated to use more careful and demanding performance appraisal systems for older employees, and this might put undue emotional pressures on the workers.

Yet while we can all understand these concerns, we should ask ourselves the question, is it an undisputed fact of life that older people are less competent than younger people? Many are the times when age equals wisdom; the greater the number of years on the job, the greater the amount of experience. Would you rather use -- the young guy who just graduated from medical school, or the physician who has been practicing for years?

In particular, there is a widespread belief that older employees suffer from poor health, poor health that prevents them from properly fulfilling the requirements of their job. This, however, is not supported by the evidence:

It is certainly the case that health problems force some older workers to leave their jobs. When this occurs, it must be agreed that retirement is not a choice but rather a necessity compelled by poor health. The important issue, however, is how numerous are such people and whether the incidence of disabling health problems is increasing among the population experiencing earlier retirement -that is, workers in their late 50's and early 60's.

After reviewing the evidence, we believe that (1) there is little support for the view that health is a major factor explaining early retirement, and (2) increasingly poor health cannot explain the long-term trend toward earlier retirement in the United States. We focus first on the importance of health as a determinant of early retirement. Here the evidence shows that relatively few give health-related reasons for retirement. For example, only 12% of more than one thousand men surveyed by the Social Security Administration gave poor health as the primary reason for leaving their main job. In addition, many researchers note that these statistics will overstate the role of poor health.

Nevertheless despite this fallacy, the Congress of the United States has allowed for the continuation of mandatory retirement programs in certain industries. Though tending toward a program of equal rights and nondiscrimination in almost all other areas, the law continues to allow for certain bona fide exceptions. The commercial aviation industry is one of these exceptions. As affirmed in a recent case, Western Airlines, Inc. v. Criswell et al.,

These guidelines require that (1) there be a reasonable basis for believing that all persons over a given age are unable to perform safely the requirements of the job and (2) it would be highly impractical for the employer to treat older employees on an individual basis. Interestingly, it is not unlikely that, in the not too distant future, airline pilots may be the only group of persons subject to mandatory retirement as early as age sixty.

It will therefore be the aim of this paper to investigate the validity of these claims. Are commercial airline pilots really a special case? Are these highly trained professionals really so afflicted with issues of ill health and poor performance as they enter their "golden years?" If this is so then there must be facts and figures to support the case. If not, then we are dealing simply with a matter of a prejudice that must be combated.

Literature Review

The commercial aviation industry's current mandatory retirement age of sixty is based directly on FAA regulations. The FAA, like so many other government agencies, has as its primary purpose ensuring the safety and well-being of the general public. Its regulations are supposed to be based on clear, scientific evidence. If the FAA says it is not allowed, then one can assume that there is sufficient data to support the position that such and such an action would be dangerous. Yet in the case of the mandatory retirement requirement, the situation is not so simple. In fact it may even be said, that the current regulation, which was promulgated in 1959, was the result not of careful scientific inquiry, but of corporate pressure. Foremost in the fight to amend FAA policy along more scientific lines is a former commercial aviation pilot, Jim Gibbons, Republican representative from Nevada. According to Gibbons,

Primary among the reasons for abolishing the Age 60 Rule is that there is no hard evidence that individuals, after their 60th birthday, become universally incapable of handling the same important tasks they did at age 59 and 364 days," Gibbons said in his testimony. "Certain scientific reports even show that a pilot's capacity for safely operating a commercial jetliner increases after age 60."

At a time when the federal government is dedicating billions of taxpayer dollars to the goal of increasing security for the nation's traveling public, it seems tremendously counter-intuitive to force into early retirement our most experienced pilots," added Gibbons, a member of the new Select Committee on Homeland Security.

It is pointed out furthermore, that "Since all commercial airline pilots are required to pass rigorous, twice-yearly flight physical examinations to ensure that their reflexes, health, and mental capacity remain at the highest levels possible, mandatory retirement based on age is unnecessary." Certainly there must be figures to support each side's point-of-view.

Various analyses have succeeded in breaking down the mandatory retirement argument into three major components: incapacitation, cognitive performance, and adverse health events. This rule, one must remember, was enacted more than 40 years ago. Life expectancy, and general expectations of good health, were clearly not the same as they are today. Medicine has advanced considerably over this period of time. Still it must not simply be assumed that in 1959, a 60-year-old was some kind of walking time bomb. Certainly a great many sixty-year-olds were as healthy in 1959 as they are today. The evidence bears out the belief that these "superannuated" pilots were fully capable of performing their jobs more than adequately. Indeed, there is much reason to believe that the implementation of the Age 60 Retirement Rule pandered more to the economic concerns of commercial aviation companies than the spiritual, emotional, and economic needs of their pilots. It goes without saying that junior pilots cost less than pilots with many years' experience. Quite enlightening is a look at the argument as it was presented at the time:

Sudden incapacitation due to cardiovascular disease was the stated reason, though not the real reason, that the actual age of 60 was… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Flying Off Into the Sunset Commercial Airline" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Flying Off Into the Sunset Commercial Airline.  (2004, November 16).  Retrieved January 15, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Flying Off Into the Sunset Commercial Airline."  16 November 2004.  Web.  15 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Flying Off Into the Sunset Commercial Airline."  November 16, 2004.  Accessed January 15, 2021.