The FAA Reauthorization Act was passed through the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation this morning after a contentious debate about raising the mandatory retirement age of commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), who sponsored the amendment to raise the retirement age, said that raising the age would be a safe and effective means for combating a shortage of pilots in the industry. “I think each of us would rather have an experienced pilot in the captain’s seat than a younger, inexperienced pilot who maybe has not faced some of these situations,” she said. “What we do know is this: the pilot shortage is leading to a loss of air service across the country especially in our regional and rural airports.”
Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) was among those who objected to Blackburn’s amendment. “This will have real consequences on air travel,” he said. “Raising the pilot retirement age will actually not get us more pilots in the air over the United States because it will have significant impacts on our pilots to fly internationally.”
Welch noted that the International Civil Aviation Organization’s mandated retirement age is 65. Pilots over 65 could be prevented from flying into international airspace per ICAO standards. “Bottom line, we’ve gotta get ICAO to adjust that if we’re going to adjust it here,” he said.
Among the bipartisan agreements in the committee’s reauthorization was a regulation that cockpit voice recorders operate for 25 hours. This comes on the heels of the situation where the flight recorder on the recent Alaska Airlines flight—in which the door plug blew out due to a decompression incident—was erased.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) applauded the vote. “The bill includes necessary funding for the FAA, supports the air traffic controller workforce and numerous safety measures, including airport and runway safety,” said ALPA president Jason Ambrosi.
“Importantly, the legislation also includes improvements [to] provisions related to aircraft cabin air quality, closing loopholes related to foreign registered aircraft operating within the U.S., student loan reform to allow more access to flight training, workforce development grants to develop future aviators, and support for nursing mothers.”
Aerospace Industries Association president and CEO Eric Fanning also lauded the vote. “This vote demonstrates the strong bipartisan support for maintaining the gold standard of safety, unleashing innovation, and strengthening our position as global leaders in aviation,” he said.
General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce further called the vote “encouraging.”
“We are particularly pleased to see that the bill includes provisions to improve the FAA’s rulemaking process, strengthen the agency’s international effectiveness, support workforce development, maintain sustainability efforts, and foster agency and industry innovation,” he said.
The bill now moves to a Senate floor vote.