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Pilots Age 65+

FL650: Climbing Higher Than You Thought Possible

By Tim Genc
May 25, 2021

During my time in the flight training industry, I had the distinct pleasure of working with a particular flight instructor. He was a CFI, a fixed wing and rotorcraft ATP, an A&P, and also a dive instructor, just to name a few of his credentials; he did it all. He was the chief pilot for a time and currently serves as the chief pilot at another part 141 school. Presently, he is well into his seventies and he is still an amazing instructor – knowledgeable and wise – and quite active, having no problem pulling aircraft in and out of the hangar with just a towbar. He is in tip-top shape and an aviation asset to any company.

When it comes to being a good and valuable pilot – private or otherwise – age is just a number in aviation. There is no reason that wizened pilots with significant years, hours and invaluable experience under their belts cannot continue to serve the industry, flying people or property around the country and world safely.

Unfortunately, according to 14 CFR Part 121.383(d), “No certificate holder may use the services of any person as a pilot on an airplane engaged in operations under this part if that person has reached his or her 65th birthday.” Part 121 governs domestic, flag and supplemental aircraft operations; it means scheduled air carrier operations, it basically means airlines. What this is saying is that, once an airline pilot – or any other pilot working for a company operating under part 121 – turns 65, they can no longer be a pilot, flying normal operations for that company.

So, what can you do with yourself in aviation after your 65th birthday? The good news is there are a lot of options, you just have to look a little harder for some of the available opportunities. The “other” news is that, just like every other pilot job out there, you must qualify for it independent of age, race, gender, religion ... or airline experience. Submitted here for your perusal are some of the paths and opportunities to consider once you graduate beyond the part 121-mandated age of pilot retirement.

Airline Training and Recruiting Department

Nowhere in part 121 does it say you cannot be employed by a 121 carrier after your 65th birthday; it only states that you cannot act as a pilot of an aircraft engaged in operations conducted under this part after your 65th birthday. So, guess what? If you love the airline/part 121 carrier for whom you have spent the last 30-40 years working, you can stay there if they need assistance in management, operations, pilot training or pilot recruiting. A gentleman I enthusiastically worked with at the airlines did just that after his 65th birthday; he joined the pilot recruiting department. This particular pilot had flown almost every airframe in the company’s half-century history and he was the primary author of their industry-shattering pilot contract. Needless to say, he had tons to offer and certainly had the experience to lend to the pilot recruitment team. If you have a passion for your company and their mission and they feel the same about you, and the opportunity exists, staying right where you are is a perfectly acceptable option.

Charter/Part 135

The charter world does not have to abide by the same regulations as their 121 brethren; retirement from flying at the age of 65 is not mandatory. Many-a-pilot is coming to the table with significant flying and jet experience and would make a welcome addition to any crew. That said, it is always important to keep in mind that every company out there is looking for the right candidate with the right kind of experience. For example, a company that flies Honda Jets is often looking for someone with Honda Jet – or at least light corporate jet – experience that translates into that environment. Thousands of hours in 757s is commendable and has certainly made one a very knowledgeable pilot, but your wide-body experience might not make you the most competitive candidate for that job.

In addition, a pilot flying in the part 121 world with an airline has a very different aviation experience than someone who flies charter. Specifically, the job of an airline pilot is to fly the aircraft, and they may also engage in other customer service duties to assist the team in accomplishing the flight/mission. The job of a charter pilot can go well beyond the duties of being a pilot; they are responsible for flight planning, catering, loading and unloading the passenger luggage from the airplane, making all of the safety announcements, ensuring that ground transportation is arranged for arrival at/departure from the airport location …. There are many moving parts in either flight environment; the charter pilot is responsible for more of them than an airline pilot. For that reason, the right charter pilot candidate might also need to have significant and/or recent charter experience.

Freight and Cargo

A popular misconception I’ve heard from pilots thinking about their career after 65 is that they can just fly freight or cargo, “for UPS or FedEx”. And while there are some opportunities for wise and grey-haired pilots to fly boxes around under part 135, (Ameriflight is the largest 135 cargo carrier in the US), UPS and FedEx still do fly under part 121; no one 65+ in their flight decks. It’s not the mission that is the issue, it is the regulation. Any company conducting business or flying under part 121 is going to have to adhere to the guidelines regarding pilots who have turned 65.

Flight Instruction

Similar to my friend, if you have a passion for aviation and want to use your gifts and talents to educate and inspire the next aviation generation, working as a CFI is an option as long as you want it to be, and as long as you can hold a medical certificate. Whether it’s a smaller FBO-style flight school that would benefit greatly from the look of a seasoned aviator, or a career-focused professional flight school that has a wealth of candidates trying to follow in your footsteps, schools everywhere would love the opportunity to work with a pilot of your caliber. With career pathways becoming such an integral part of aviation training, your first-hand experience would be sought-after.

Aviation doesn’t have to end after your 65th birthday and there’s no reason it should. At this point, a pilot has likely learned that their love of aviation is a calling they cannot ignore; they must do something with their love of the industry. And while flying for fun is certainly an option, quality time in your own J3 Cub is not the only one. While it does encompass a lot of jobs, the only limitation imposed is upon part 121 pilots. Charter and corporate flying are responsible for a lot of flying opportunities. In fact, FAPA’s Pilot Employer Search Tool identifies over 4,400 companies who are flying a total of 19,402 aircraft; none of them under part 121!

The opportunities are there for you, if you want them. You’re never too old to keep pursuing your dream.

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