By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, July 25 (Reuters) - A group of Republicans in Congress on Monday proposed legislation to raise the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age to 67 from 65, in a bid to address an airline industry staff shortage.
The proposal, which would require pilots over age 65 to pass a rigorous medical screening every six months, follows complaints of pilot shortages by many regional airlines.
Senator Lindsey Graham said the proposal would help address travel snarls in the United States. Travelers have faced widespread flight delays and cancellations this summer as airlines struggle to cope with rising travel demand with workforces depleted by employee departures during the COVID pandemic.
The Regional Airline Association praised the legislation, saying a pilot shortage has resulted in 500 aircraft "parked and 315 communities losing air service. Raising the mandatory pilot retirement age is part of the solution to a critical issue with rippling effects."
Airlines for America, an industry group representing major carriers including American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, declined to say if it supports raising the pilot retirement age
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), however, said Monday that it opposed any attempts to increase the retirement age for professional airline pilots.
"There is no reason to change the retirement age and doing so would only increase costs for airlines and introduce unnecessary risks to passengers and crew alike," ALPA President Joe DePete said Monday.
Speaking in a news conference in South Carolina, Graham said 14,000 pilots would be forced to retire over the next four years. "It's time for America to adjust its age when it comes to allowing qualified people to be in the cockpit," he said.
Graham noted that in 2007 the United States raised the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65, and "the sky did not fall."
Even if the proposal is approved, the union said pilots older than 65 would still not be able to fly in most countries outside the United States because of international rules.
Republican Senators John Thune, Deb Fischer, Chuck Grassley, Cynthia Lummis and Marsha Blackburn are co-sponsors of the proposal, while a group of House Republicans led by Representative Chip Roy proposed parallel legislation.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has not come out in favor of the hike in pilots' retirement age, and he told Fox News earlier this month that the regulation is in place "for safety reasons. I haven't seen any piece of information or data that would suggest that the reasoning has changed." (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter, Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman)