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Monday, December 22, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 7/8/2000

Age alone shouldn't knock pilots out of the sky

Does the Federal Aviation Administration discriminate against older aircraft pilots?

Probably I never should raise this question, for my own years of good flying with happy landings now are behind me. However, I feel deep sympathy for pilots who spend long years learning a skill, then overnight are deprived of flying privileges.

In many years of flying, I often ran into fellow pilots who suddenly found themselves deprived of the physical certification that enabled them to fly without being accompanied by another licensed pilot.

The reasons given for their failure to pass the required FAA physical examination were varied, but never did I hear of anyone being rejected because of age. This did not mean that it was not a factor. In fact, of those I personally knew, all were over 65 years of age, and those over 75 or 80 seemed to have special attention paid to them.

Even as a new pilot, I observed that the FAA seemed to have an unwritten system of considering pilot privileges. If you were a new pilot, taking lessons and relatively new to flying, the FAA seemed to be rather indulgent regarding pilot errors, but the more experienced one became, the harder the FAA cracked down if even a slight mishap occurred.

Aviation definitely is a young person's pastime, but experience also should count highly. Many retirees who have passed 65 continue to fly safely everywhere.

As long as there are no incidents, physical examinations seem to be passed with regularity, but slight deterioration of eyesight or hearing, or certain minor heart conditions, begin to draw attention.

It may be only a slight heartbeat irregularity that raises a red flag, but once FAA attention settles upon the older pilot, the trouble seems to begin and never end.

So far as I know, the FAA has never told any pilot that his or her age is a consideration for approval of flying privileges, but definitely the age factor hangs over the flier like an ugly, black cloud.

Expensive laboratory testing and retesting frequently are required. The delays in FAA reports and decisions drags on and on, while the unhappy pilot waits and waits. Unquestionably, all too many elderly pilots become discouraged and give up the fight after being confronted with another battery of demanded tests.

The FAA has an obligation to remove unsafe pilots from the air, but I wonder if it often is protecting itself more than the public. On a decision of whether or not a pilot is physically safe to fly, it seems to me that the pilot's own physician - rather than FAA officials who never have examined the pilot - should have the final word.

Even if the FAA deprives a veteran pilot of his certification, it by no means assures that the airspace has been made one iota safer. It is no secret that many of those deprived of aerial privileges quietly keep right on flying

Elderly pilots usually have had long years of flying experience and have invested large sums of money in the business. The least they deserve is to be treated fairly by the FAA, with prompt service on any physical testing required, and a total absence of any disguised age discrimination.



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