Deregulation to allow fit pilots over 60 to fly together

Kyodo

The government will allow airline captains and copilots to fly together beyond the normal retirement threshold of 60 from next month due to a flight crew shortage amid the rise in low-cost carriers, transport ministry and industry officials said Wednesday.

At present, one pilot in a cockpit must be younger than 60, although pilots can keep flying up to age 65 as long as they pass rigorous medical examinations, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

The deregulation will be a boon to smaller carriers that rely on retirees from big airlines or midcareer pilots recruited from other carriers, the industry officials said.

Without the deregulation, Peach Aviation Ltd. would face an uncertain future because pilots in their 50s account for the majority of the cockpit crew of the nation’s first budget airline.

Senior pilots are “physically fit and willing to work,” said an official at Fuji Dream Airlines Co., a regional carrier based in the city of Shizuoka. “It is a social loss if manpower with skills and experience cannot be utilized.”

Because pilots are considered among the “physical elite” in terms of both strength and health, most who can work to age 60 still have the ability to fly until they turn 65, said Masanori Fujita, an associate professor specializing in aviation medicine at the National Defense Medical College. The envisioned deregulation should “cause no problem,” he added.

The deregulation is also expected to benefit young pilots at a time when major airlines are increasingly introducing new aircraft, including the Boeing 787, to replace older planes.

Pilots nowadays are generally type-rated, or certified, for one class of aircraft and are not transitioned to other types of planes. Thus, many young pilots remain copilots for senior captains piloting older aircraft models.

The deregulation will free up younger pilots to become type-rated with the latest aircraft by letting sexagenarians pair up to fly older planes, a transport ministry official said.