Regional airline lobby group European Regions Airline Association (ERA) wants to increase the pilot retirement age cap beyond 65, using case study work that is being performed by member carrier ASL Airlines Hungary.
ASL Airlines Hungary is working with the Hungarian CAA and aircraft Hungarian aeromedical specialist Pharma Flight to collect data and benchmark the performance of older pilots.
Once this data has been gathered, ASL Airlines Hungary and the Hungarian CAA plan to seek an exemption to employ active pilots over the age of 65 from European regulator EASA.
ERA director general Montserrat Barriga said an exemption could potentially be secured within two years, compared with the lengthy five-year process needed for formal EASA rulemaking, setting a precedent for other airlines to follow.
Barriga made the comments during a media briefing in London on March 20, suggesting this as a partial solution to the pilot shortage, which is a top concern for ERA's member airlines.
While ASL Airlines Hungary is leading the process, Barriga said other ERA airlines have responded positively to the move.
ERA president and ASL Airlines Hungary interim CEO Andrew Kelly said his airline has been in conversation with a Hungarian professor, who formerly headed the Hungarian CAA and is currently researching extensions to the pilot retirement age.
"ASL Airlines Hungary has signed a cooperation with the Hungarian CAA. Under that, we have agreed to carry out tests on some of our pilots, who will wear monitors to measure medical data, like blood pressure, while flying. They will be various ages, including pilots who are 63 or 64, in their last couple of years of flying. We will cooperate on that and give the data to the CAA."
Kelly added that Pharma Flight, which has a very large medical facility and operates Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 simulators, will contribute its specialist knowledge to the research. He said Pharma Flight will liaise with EASA on the research, measurements and data that it collects.
"I had some pilots, who are 63 years of age and seem a lot fitter than I am, that did not want to give up flying in two years' time," Kelly said, explaining the rationale behind the project.
He added that, to solve the skills crisis, solutions are needed at both ends of the spectrum by training new cadets and retaining older pilots in active operations.
While ASL Airlines is specifically seeking the clearance to retain six pilots who are scheduled to retire around 2020, Kelly said: "We can lobby, support, drive and lead this for the sake of many members."
He added the Hungarian CAA has already done some work on pilot retirement ages and EASA has also put out a tender for further research.