Congress Debates Airline Pilot Safety Measures

An American Airlines plane prepares to land at the Miami International Airport on May 2, 2023. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) every few years is typically a routine congressional act. But this year, a shortage of airline pilots is contributing to widespread cancellations and chaos at American airports, and lawmakers are sparring over proposed solutions FAA reauthorization could codify.

With current authorizations set to expire on September 30, achieving consensus on aviation issues will be one of the top items on Congress’ to-do list once it returns from the August recess that began today.

Though multiple factors have contributed to the pilot shortage, one of the most commonly cited is airline carriers’ decision in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to offer pilots and other employees early retirement packages as a cost-cutting measure. After more workers than expected took those offers, and as travel increased as the pandemic eased, demand for flights has outstripped the supply of crews.

A grassroots group of pilots is now asking Congress to mitigate the problem by making one simple change: Raising the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from 65 to 67. Despite opposition from the largest pilots’ union in the world (the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA) and the skepticism of union-friendly Democrats, they’re making progress.

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