A look at age limits for commercial airline pilots and when they are forced to retire

When does a pilot have to retire? — Sometimes NEVER!

There is a stereotype of an old, wise captain who has been flying for many years and knows everything about the industry. While, there are now many young, diverse pilots who are flying commercially. The stereotype is still largely true. In 2021, the average commercial airline pilot in the USA was 51. 

So, what is the appropriate time for an airline pilot to retire? And what are the rules? Technically, there are no age restrictions on holding a commercial or private pilots licence. However, to fly with passengers, pilots must meet certain criteria — one of them, a mandatory retirement age which is normally 65.

In this blog post, we will discuss the retirement age for commercial airline pilots, and private pilots, and take a look at what additional rules older pilots have to follow. Plus, we’ll look at a special case, where there are no age limits on commercial pilots!

What age do private pilots have to retire?

Like driving, there is no upper age requirement for general aviation pilots.

As long as a private pilot can hold a valid medical licence, they are allowed to continue flying.

Retired commercial airline pilot flying privately
younger female pilot in the flight deck
41,000

While commercial pilots might be getting younger and more diverse, the number of older private pilots continues to increase.

In 2016, there were over 41,000 pilots over the age of 70 in the USA.

What age do commercial airline pilots have to retire?

Generally, commercial pilots have to retire at the age of 65. However, there are some additional restrictions applied to pilots nearing retirement age, and there is one unique exception!

  • Pilots over the age of 60 must have a medical every 6 months (it is annually up until 60)
  • Some countries — such as the USA — restrict pilots over the age of 60 to domestic flying only
  • Other regulators such as EASA and the CAA allow pilots to fly internationally, but prohibit two pilots over the age of 60 flying together. One pilot must be under 60.

Some commercial pilots may choose to retire before they reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. This decision usually depends on their health — spending your life jet-lagged isn’t that good for you! —, and how much longer they think they can safely fly planes.

Equally, some airline unions have ensured that pilot mandatory retirement age hasn’t been raised to the ICAO required 65. While it is legally possible to fly until 65, pilots at airlines that have a mandated retirement scheme will be forced to leave at this lower age. As an example, Dutch legacy carrier KLM has a mandatory retirement age of 58.

Sydney opera house at sunset

It’s different down under!

Surprisingly, Australia and New Zealand both have no upper age limit for airline pilots. Pilots still have to abide by international aviation rules — and therefore can’t continue to fly internationally beyond 65 — but, the Australian Civil Aviation Authority (CASA) doesn’t mandate a national retirement age.

As a result, pilots over 65 can continue domestic operations indefinitely. So, it’s no surprise to see the oldest female commercial pilot in the World is Australian!

Will pilot retirement age change?

It’s possible that the retirement age for commercial pilots will change in the future.

Pilot mandatory age limits were once, 55 before being increased to 60 in the early 2000s, and in 2022 currently stand at 65.

Older retired commercial airline pilots flying privately

In fact, there have been several proposals to raise the mandatory retirement age to 70 or even 75. However, these proposals have yet to be approved. So, for now, commercial pilots still have to retire at the age of 65.

Summary

Most commercial airline pilots have a maximum retirement age of 65. Some choose to retire beforehand, and many are forced to retire before this age due to stringent medical checks. These checks increase in frequency from the age of 60 onwards, performed every six months.

However, there is no restriction on pilot retirement age for private and non-commercial flying. As a result, there are thousands of pilots over the age of 65, in fact the oldest flight instructor in the world gave her final flying lesson at the age of 99!

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Josh
Josh

Flyingbynumber’s Resident Airline Captain — Josh

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