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The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it would propose changing a rule that prevents pilots over the age of 60 from flying commercial and cargo aircraft. The news was a victory for pilots who have fought the mandatory retirement. “It’s really a Hallelujah position,” said 59-year-old Frank Mallone, a pilot for JetBlue. But FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said it would be 18 to 24 months before the rule takes effect. “We want to get more data before the end of this year, before we get moving,” Blakey, flanked by a group of pilots nearing their 60th birthday, said to a crowd at the National Press Club. In the past, the FAA had cited safety reasons for the age-60 rule. The proposed new rule would be similar to the one established last November by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which allows foreign pilots to fly as captains up to age 65 as long as their co-pilot is under 60. This new global standard was one of the factors that went into Blakey’s decision to recommend a change in the 47-year-old rule. The Air Line Pilots Association International — in particular Duane Woerth, who served two four-year terms as its president — had been the main domestic roadblock to changing the age requirement in the United States. As the association’s membership became younger, the union argued for the rule on behalf of members who hoped to move more quickly into the captain’s seat. When Woerth lost his re-election bid last November, he was replaced by John Prater, who supports the rule change. Blakey said that there were no plans to make the age 65 rule retroactive and that waivers for pilots celebrating their 60th birthdays during the rule-change process would be difficult to implement. Jay Keese, who represents the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the FAA’s announcement was a long time coming. But the rejection of pilots who turn 60 within the rule-changing time frame, he said, was “ridiculous.” “This was a decision that could be made virtually overnight for foreign pilots with the stroke of a pen,” says Keese. Lobbyists will now lend their attention to a bill, reintroduced in the Senate by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), that would allow Blakey to overcome various administrative procedures set by the Administrative Procedure Act. Patton Boggs has also been working the issue with former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (D) and ex-Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, who are lending their muscle to the debate. Blakey said she had created a panel of airline experts to study the issue of changing the age restriction. The panel issued no recommendations about altering the policy.
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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