“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full. ”
Viva Los Old Fogies
As I read Jeff Wieand's Taxes, Laws and Finance column, "Your Gray-haired Pilot", I realized that had I not left the cockpit for a writing career in the 1990s, I would now be that pilot, gray hair and all.
With respect to retirement age, as Jeff points out, corporate pilots fall between a rock and a hard place. While by federal regulation airline pilots must retire at age 60, corporate and charter pilots face no such rule. Nevertheless, some charter operators and companies have adopted the age-60 rule for their pilots, figuring, "What's good enough for the airlines is good enough for us." Well, maybe not, some pilots have replied. A few are challenging their arbitrarily early retirements in court.
Personally, I think the FAA should change the 48-year-old, age-60 regulation and increase the mandatory retirement age to at least 65 for all pilots flying turbine-powered aircraft or any aircraft in commercial operations, but require them to pass more robust medical exams each year, perhaps including psychological and mental-acuity testing.
Health and ability should be the key factors in any age-related fly/no-fly decision. To be sure, reaction time slows with age, but this is compensated for, I believe, by one's better judgment in the latter years. As the old saw goes, "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are very few old, bold pilots."
Issues such as airline pension plans, seniority lists, pilot pay, advancement opportunities for younger pilots, age discrimination and the pilot job market just muddy the pilot-retirement-age discussion. If a pilot is physically fit, mentally alert and psychologically healthy enough to fly past age 60, then let him just do it. If you want her to fly only with another pilot who is younger than 60 or only as a copilot, fine-but let her fly. Don't ground pilots just because they've been eligible for AARP membership for 10 years.
I admit I'm feeling my age some, but I still feel fit enough to fly professionally today and for several more years. However, following my father's death two years ago, I began seeing glimpses of the Grim Reaper in my rear-view mirror. I sensed I needed something to test myself physically and mentally. That something came in the form of a 45-day Outward Bound outdoor leadership course in the mountains of western North Carolina. Thankfully, Wilson Leach, the managing director and owner of the company that produces this publication, granted my request to use a block of banked vacation time during a rare, relatively quiet period in our work schedule. I returned to work on May 1.
Most of the people on this particular course were in their early 20s. The youngest was 18. The second oldest was 32. I was the oldest by 25 years. Our two instructors, at 32 and 25, are about the ages of my middle and youngest children.
My main concern before starting the course was that I'd be unable to keep up physically with my much younger cohorts. Though the physical part was no cakewalk, it turned out not to be as big a problem as I had feared. Our focus was on performing well as a group, so we put our slowest hikers in the front, making the pace just about right for me.
What I found more difficult was relating to my co-students, many of whose main topics of discussion swirled around pop culture: celebrities I don't care about; music I don't listen to; movies I've never seen; TV shows I don't watch; Internet sites I don't frequent; e-mail lingo I don't understand; stores I don't shop in; and video games I've never even heard of. In addition, I was the only married person in the group. But we soon found common ground in the wilderness experience itself-Outward Bound is big on experiential learning-and eventually other shared interests and experiences emerged. Some members of the group even began asking for my opinion and, in their words, respecting my "wisdom." I left the course with a feeling of close kinship with several of them.
I think there's a lesson here for us Baby Boomers as we approach our Old Fogey years. Sure, 60-somethings are now the new 50-somethings and 70-year-olds are the new 60-year-olds. (Yes, I read that in AARP's magazine.) Regardless of how healthy we are, how young we feel and how young we may look (by natural or other means), we have a good deal of life experience. Passing on our wisdom of the years to younger generations is as important for them as it is gratifying to us, regardless of the topic or activity.
Moreover, for the smooth-skinned, shiny-haired, recent flight-school graduates of today, the aviation knowledge and lessons-learned that seasoned, older pilots can afford them could someday prove downright critical in the cockpit. IMHO (e-mail-speak for "in my humble opinion"), that's one more good reason we should keep those old, wrinkled, gray-haired pilots flying as long as they safely can.