On July 5, 2017 European Union Court of Justice announced its ruling in the Lufthansa vs. a pilot case, stating that the airline legally fired a pilot as soon as he turned 65 years old. The EU Court of Justice is the highest-ranking court in Europe, making this decision final and mandatory to all European carriers.
The dispute invokes German carrier’s decision to fire a pilot as soon as he turned 65 – reached pension age – despite the fact that there were two months left until the expiration of his employment contract. The EU court of justice has ruled that Lufthansa did not breach the law.
The opinion with the ruling states that pilot’s age is an important factor in his ability to perform his duties and therefore “safety comes first”. It is stated in the judgment:
“Concerning, first of all, the appropriateness of such a provision in the light of the aim pursued, it is clear from the case-law of the Court that, as regards air traffic safety, measures that aim to avoid aeronautical accidents by monitoring pilots’ aptitude and physical capabilities with the aim of ensuring that human failure does not cause accidents are undeniably measures of a nature to ensure air traffic safety […] Furthermore, it should be noted that, after stating that it is essential that airline pilots possess sufficient physical capabilities, in so far as physical defects may have significant consequences for that profession, the Court held that it is undeniable that those capabilities diminish with age […]”.
However, in this case poses the question whether the two months really make a crucial difference in pilot’s abilities to fly a plane. Perhaps surprisingly, other pilot unions welcome the EU Court of Justice ruling, saying that despite the age of pilots being a controversial issue, the decision regards that pilots need sufficient physical capabilities to carry on their duties safely.
“Pilots should be able to early retirement with full benefits,” Ignacio Plaza, Deputy Secretary General of European Cockpit Association AISBL told to AeroTime. “The judgment of the Court is coherent with a previous ruling and sets a maximum limit. A reasonable and proportionate age limit is ultimately important for safe operations”.
It is widely accepted that pilot’s capability to perform duties diminish with age, therefore after the age of 55 pilots undergo more increased medical supervision, as the number of mandatory medical checks that can incapacitate pilots from working upsurges. After the age of 60 a pilot can only fly an aircraft engaged in commercial air transport operations if he or she is part of a multi-pilot crew whose other members are younger than 60 years old, according to the EU and international legislation. The pilot who has attained the age of 65 years cannot pilot an aircraft engaged in commercial air transport operations.
In 2017 the European Aviation Safety Agency has also launched a call for research in order to assess the need for a pilot age limit with the aim of further alleviating the risk to flight safety resulting from the potential increasing cases of incapacitation for pilots aged over 60 years old.
Vereinigung Cockpit, the pilot union representing Lufthansa’s employees, was not able to comment on this topic.