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Pilots' retirement age to be raised to 67 to cope with shortage

30 Comments

The Japanese transport ministry has decided to raise the retirement age for airline pilots to 67 from 64 to cope with a shortage in pilots.

The transport ministry said it will make stricter health checks mandatory for pilots aged 64 to 67 and limit the number of flight hours for them to 80 per month.

The airline industry is facing a drastic shortage of pilots as fast-growing Asian airlines buy more planes. In Japan, the entry of low cost carriers into the market has created a demand for more pilots.

"The demand is almost exceeding the supply," says John M. Cox, who spent 25 years flying for US Airways and is now CEO of consultancy Safety Operating Systems.

Quickly-growing airlines need to maintain standards as they hire more pilots, maintenance workers, dispatchers and flight attendants. Cox says the Asian carriers are currently meeting those marks, but it's a big challenge.

As Southeast Asia's economies grow, more people have money to travel and airlines are adding planes to whisk them across the region.

Aircraft manufactures Airbus, ATR, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer delivered a whopping 1,543 new planes to airlines last year. That means a total of 30 planes rolled off their collective assembly lines every week — the fastest production rate in the history of commercial aviation. Most of those aircraft went to Asia.

"The Asian carriers are trying to really expand quickly," says Michael Barr, an aviation-safety instructor at the University of Southern California. "When you've got cockpit seats needing to be filled, you're going to fill them."

For each new plane, airlines need to hire and train at least 10 to 12 pilots, sometimes more, according to industry experts. The figure is so high because planes often fly throughout the day and night, seven days a week, while pilots need sleep and days off.

Right now, Asia-Pacific accounts for 31% of global air passenger traffic, according to the industry's trade group, the International Air Transport Association. Within two decades, that figure is forecast to jump to 42%, as Asia adds an extra 1.8 billion annual passengers for an overall market size of 2.9 billion.

Boeing projects that the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any region in the world, accounting for 40% of the global pilot demand.

Meanwhile, many pilots, engineers and technicians in Southeast Asia have been lured to more attractive jobs in the Middle East, which boast higher salaries and the opportunity to fly in sleek new aircraft.

Money — or lack thereof — is at the heart of much of the region's staffing shortages, says Lim Chee Meng, CEO of Mil-Com Aerospace Group, a Singapore-based aviation training company that provides training for many of the region's airlines. Wages for pilots and technicians in Southeast Asia have not risen fast enough to compensate for the cost of training. That discourages people from wanting to pursue an aviation career in the first place.

© Japan Today/AP

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30 Comments
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67? They must be kidding!

-6 ( +6 / -12 )

This is a good idea, as long as the pilots get regular health checks, including reaction time. I'd feel safer in a plane with an older, experienced pilot than with someone rushed through a school to fill a position.

13 ( +14 / -2 )

I'd feel safer in a plane with an older, experienced pilot than with someone rushed through a school to fill a position.

Plus, you know they are not gonna be speedfreaks or daredevils.

2 ( +6 / -5 )

The retirement age for pilots is already over the age that is commonly thought of as the "retirement" age here in Japan, (60). Sadly many companies retire employees at 60, many people are more than capable of continuing working after 60 and with the worker shortage that is happening in Japan now, dont be surprised to see ages rise in other sectors too.

People born after 1963 will not be able to receive retirement pension payments until they hit 65, so what are they going to do from 60? At least these pilots have it covered.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Wages for pilots and technicians in Southeast Asia have not risen fast enough

And this is the real story. The airline industry doesn't want to commit to hiring more full time pilots at proper wages (and internationally there are a huge number of unemployed or underemployed pilots) so instead they've pressured the Ministry into authorizing this increase in retirement age.

I wouldn't have a problem with this if it wasn't for the blatantly exploitative nature of the employment conditions. The pilots deserve full time wages and bonuses, not to be treated like part-timers.

3 ( +11 / -8 )

USA, 2007:

https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=10072

Effective last night, the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act allows both pilots on a domestic flight to be up to age 65. For international flights, one pilot may be up to age 65 provided the other pilot is under age 60, consistent with the November 2006 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Yubaru,

many people are more than capable of continuing working after 60 and with the worker shortage.

I would go one step further:

almost all people are more than capable of continuing working after 60 ...

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Thanks for all the "thumbs down"!

I hope that those health checks will not be like the checks people have to take to get their driver's license renewed once they reach a certain age. Elsewise I do agree .... there should be no limit as to how long you work ... the longer the better.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Remind me to never fly with a Japanese airline. Wait I already had that rule, never mind.

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are no old and bold pilots...

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Seems silly that demand exceeds supply. i thought being a pilot was something lots of people would like as a job.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Frungy

The airline industry

Sorry, are you talking international or domestic? I've read a report some days ago regarding a pilot shortage. My impression is that it is particularly acute in South East Asia. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

@Tessa

Plus, you know they are not gonna be speedfreaks or daredevils.

I'd hope none would buzz any control towers like in Top Gun.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Some of these oldsters might be pretty decent pilots with many hours of flight time behind the controls of conventional flight control aircraft. Just who you want in an emergency. Too many systems management type pilots these days who don't know what to do when the computers go down. As long as they check out physically, I'm all for it.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I haven't flown a powered aircraft, only a glider and hang-glider, and instructed the latter, and I can say one thing unequivocally, I'd trust an older pilot before a younger one, not because the younger one isn't any more qualified but because old or young, they both have to be tested continuously, in flight theory and practice. Besides, I'm over 60 and can still do any of the jobs I did when younger, but prefer retirement.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

With more thorough health check-up, I think it'd be fine. However, this has just a temporary effect to alleviate the shortage of pilots, thus the government needs to improve working conditions and raise wages along with that policy if possible.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't think any airline would take the risk of allowing incompetent pilot to fly their aircraft. Plus all aircraft is flown by two pilots for safety measure to begin with. Besides, I have seen many pilots fly for airshow after their retirement well into their 70s; they do go through proper and rigorous health check that is required by the FAA.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A better solution would be to move the 65 year old to the co-pilot's seat, provide more training for the present co-pilots, bring in new co-pilot candidates, and negotiate a new pay scale. The airlines, pilots, co-pilots and future pilots win and the experienced pilot is still available in case of an emergency.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Some of my favorite flying related quotes:

Doctor Rumack: "When are we going to be able to land?

Ted Striker: "I can't tell.

Doctor Rumack: "You can tell me, I'm a doctor. Ted Striker: "I don't know.

Doctor Rumack: "Well, can't you take a guess?

Ted Striker: "Not for another two hours.

Doctor Rumack: "You can't take a guess for another two hours? — from the 1980 movie 'Airplane.'

Flying is hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror.

Both optimists and pessimists contribute to the society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute. — George Bernard Shaw

If you push the stick forward, the houses get bigger, if you pull the stick back they get smaller.

A funny story:

In 1978, a trainee Air Traffic Controller under supervision at Collage Station Texas, Easterwood Tower. This is a true story of a radio discussion one afternoon:

Unknown Aircraft: "Hello?.."

Easterwood Tower (me): "Please say again."

UA: "What?"

ET: "Who is this?"

UA: "This is Joe"

ET: "This is Easterwood Tower, where are you?"

UA: "I'm in the plane!"

(I looked down the flight line, checking if someone was sitting in a parked plane playing with the radio. I didn't see anything, and the senior controller was becoming more interested in my handling of the situation.)

ET: "Joe, where is the pilot?"

UA: "He got out when the engine quit.."

(I could only imagine a bizarre scenario in which the pilot had jumped from the plane.)

ET: "Joe, what does your airspeed indicator read?"

UA: (Long pause) "Zero?"

(So the plane was now in a stall I thought.)

ET: "Joe, whatever you have in front of you - a stick or a steering wheel - push it forward - you need to get airspeed over your wings!"

UA: "Are you sure?"

ET: "Yes Joe you need to push it forward... (pause)... What does your airspeed indicator read now?"

UA: "It's still zero."

(I thought, oh my god, Joe's plane was in a falling leaf spin. I couldn't help him. Joe was going to die. I did not know what to do. I looked to the senior controller. He said, "Ask him where his plane is.")

ET: "Joe, where is your plane?"

UA: "We are parked down at the end of the runway, the pilot got out when the engine quit and walked back to the hanger.."

ET: "Joe, get off the radio."

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Wakarimasen: Seems silly that demand exceeds supply. i thought being a pilot was something lots of people would like as a job.

An airline pilot told me that kids and people think the job is glamorous, but except for takeoff and landing the plane flies itself and you mostly just watch it, it's very boring. Imagine that every workday for years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Modern airliners don't depend on the pilot's reflexes like cars, or military airplanes do. aside from take off and landings, the planes pretty much fly themselves, so all that"s really required is flying skills, and good human judgment. So unless the pilot has some mental disability, I don't see an issue with age.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Mirai HayashiF Modern airliners don't depend on the pilot's reflexes like cars, or military airplanes do. aside from take off and landings, the planes pretty much fly themselves, so all that"s really required is flying skills, and good human judgment. So unless the pilot has some mental disability, I don't see an issue with age.

yeah. They fly themselves until they don't, and that's when you need a good pilot. There were lots of near disasters lately that ended well solely because of a good pilot-

0 ( +2 / -2 )

alot of young people like farming don't want to do the hrs needed to be hired for a comm pilot, on top of that I wouldn't mind flying for JAL but the issue is you have to take the test in Japanese (all written and verbal, plus learn things learned nowhere else) such as how the radio actually works, eg what a mechanic needs to know if you live or work out of japan. I always respect Japan "their country their rules" approach, but it can be insanely hard for someone outside of japan to pass......

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Personally, sitting looking straight ahead for hours at a time is sort of like playing Pachinko. I would rathe ruse my hands and be creative.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What could possibly go wrong?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

ReformedBasherFeb. 23, 2015 - 10:11AM JST @Frungy

The airline industry

Sorry, are you talking international or domestic?

That's a bit of a hard question to answer. There are relatively few "domestic only" carriers, and most airlines have both domestic and international flights, even if it just a short hop from Kansai airport to Shanghai. As the problem is spread across most of South-East Asia I'd say it is an international problem that includes both domestic and international carriers.

Does that clarify things?

I've read a report some days ago regarding a pilot shortage. My impression is that it is particularly acute in South East Asia. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

I have three friends who are pilots; two of them are senior pilots for major international carriers and they fly internationally, and one is fairly young and junior so she mostly gets domestic flights with the occasional international flight (normally as co-pilot). When I talked to them last the general consensus was that the Middle Eastern airlines were offering the best pay, the best flying hours (not too much, not too little to maintain their licenses) and the best fringe benefits (free flights for family members, discounts on hotel stays, and other less tangible benefits like having enough pilots so that you could swap with others to end up where you wanted to be when your flying hours maxed out for the month).

They all agreed that SE Asian airlines were generally cutting corners on safety, didn't pay as well as the Middle Eastern airlines, were unnecessarily strict about swapping flights, and showed very little consideration for their pilot's needs, either in terms of pushing them to do extra (and sometime illegal) flying hours, or to take unpaid time off when the airline didn't need them.

Overall SE Asian airlines have a pretty bad reputation amongst pilots, which is why they're facing a shortage of pilots. Pilots are a very international workforce, and don't really care where they fly as long as they can shuffle things around so they can get home to be with their families when they reach their maximum flying hours for the month, and so there should be no such thing as a shortage of pilots in one area... unless labour practices are so backwards and inflexible in that area that the pilots don't want to work for those companies.

Here's the simple acid test. Are other non-Asian international airlines that fly to S.E. Asia suffering pilot shortages? No. Because they treat their pilots well and are prepared to compromise.

This is simply a global workforce voting with their feet and choosing not to work for companies that don't treat them well.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

And this is the real story. The airline industry doesn't want to commit to hiring more full time pilots at proper wages (and internationally there are a huge number of unemployed or underemployed pilots) so instead they've pressured the Ministry into authorizing this increase in retirement age.

True. I had some friends who were pilots in Japan (they were American) and the wages they were paid and the way they were treated - still are, some of them - in Japan and back home is shocking. Hired and fired at will according to the whims of the industry that particular year. It`s no way to support a family and plan a life. Now lots of them are unemployed and/or working desk jobs for the airline companies, but none of them can get jobs overseas either because they arent hiring new pilots. Unless they want to go live in the sticks in China and fly farm animals around.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

67? They must be kidding! actually pilots can fly well into there 70s, as long as they can show that they are medical fit to fly then the more experienced the better. having said that not every country has strict medical exams to prove that there pilots are competent

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Pilots are not going to request to continue flying past a time they feel they are no longer capable. Not all pilots will want to continue to the max, others will still be capable of maintaining an excellent standard when they hit the designated "use by" age.

Japan will open-end the retirement age - the same as has been the case in Australia, and New Zealand, for a decade or more.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There's a quick solution to this pilot shortage problem - allow one or two percent of the pilots now tied up flying military aircraft all over the world to work for the airlines instead. No good?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Reason why there s a shortage is the high cost of learning and then the low pay in the beginning when you get hired . It takes as long to be a pilot as it does to be a doctor . To get to the major airlines it takes nearly 8-12 years and that is after you get a collage degree. The physicals I get after age 50 requires a ekg, and everything else you would expect . Many of pilots do not pass these even when they are 30 .. I could fly to 67 no problem but It is not that easy or enjoyable specially with the new rules in the US flying up to 9 hours in the cockpit with no relief pilot and them with the possibility of going 10.5 hours or more if you have to fly to another airport. This is just flying not the duty day which is 14 and they EXPECT you to go to 16 hours. The new rules that were made after the Cogan air crash were for safety , what a joke I am tired all the time have heard many guys falling asleep.. Its the the age its the rules that they make becasue the airlines are happy to abuse the limits which cause the problems.The physicals will get more stringent to go past 65 just as they were to go past 60. It has already been proven that there is no safety problem with this as Charles pointed out above that numerous country's have been flying past 65 for a long time.You also have to pilots there each capable of flying it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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