When we launched Linear Air nine years ago as an air-taxi service providing fast, safe, and affordable on-demand air travel from the airport nearest your home or office like Hanscom Field outside Boston and White Plains/Westchester and Teterboro Airports in the NYC area, I never thought I’d be hiring gray-haired pilots. Since the dawn of professional/regulated commercial aviation, older pilots always have occupied the highest rungs of the piloting community. They fly as captains on the highest-paying domestic and international routes aboard the big widebody jets operated by the major airlines. They make $200,000 or more a year.
Pilots at on-demand air-taxi operations like Linear Air are typically at the other end of the age spectrum. Yes, all of our pilots are highly trained professionals certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. But, with a few exceptions (like me, since I serve as a Linear Air pilot several times a month); they’ve tended to be pilots in their 20s and 30s.
But soon, thanks to actions by Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration, “The Law of Unintended Consequences” will begin benefitting small commercial aviation operators like Linear Air and our passengers in ways no one ever expected. Within the next year – maybe within the next six months – I expect to see some of the most experienced pilots on earth flying our passengers in air-taxi aircraft.
Whenever The Law of Unintended Consequences gets mentioned, most people take it to mean that mean somebody (probably somebody or somebodies in government) has caused a huge unexpected problem by making decisions or taking actions intended solve an entirely different problem. But the truth of the matter is that “TLUC,” as defined by economist Robert K. Merton way back in 1936 (whose son Robert C. Merton has flown Linear btw), doesn’t always produce negative consequences. Indeed, sometimes the unintended consequences are positive.
A series of unintended consequences were set in motion in December 2007 when Congress passed, and President George W. Bush, signed a law increasing the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots flying for carriers governed by Part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations to 65, from age 60. As a result, we’ve experienced five years of historically low pilot retirement rates. Now the first of those pilots allowed to continue flying for airlines after age 60 are reaching the new, higher limit.
Those retirements, coupled with an increase in the amount of flight experience a pilot must have to be an airline co-pilot, are expected to create a pilot shortage. But for Linear Air and other air-taxi and charter companies that typically operate on the lower rungs of the pilots’ career ladder, you might think that would be a problem for us. But that’s where the POSITIVE unintended consequence comes in.
Many of the veteran airline pilots about to turn 65 aren’t ready to quit. The calendar may say they’re 65. But their bodies, minds and spirits say they’re really much younger. And while their incomes and retirement benefits might allow them to play golf or fish all day every day, some undoubtedly will want to keep doing what they love - flying - at least on a part-time basis.
And with Linear Air and other Part 135 operators, they can. The age 65 rule doesn’t apply to us. That’s why I expect we’ll soon begin hiring some of the most experienced pilots in the world. Not only will we value their enormously honed skills and their vast experience in the cockpit, we think their maturity and people skills will be a big bonus. That’s because at Linear Air our pilots interact directly and personally with every one of their passengers. I expect these older pilots to excel at that.
And don’t worry; there’ll be no doubt about their fitness to fly. The winnowing process for all commercial pilots is severe – and doubly so for those who first were military pilots. People prone to serious health issues typically never qualify as commercial pilots. And pilots who develop even relatively minor health issues see their careers cut short. So any pilot who makes it all the way to age 65 with a major airline is, by definition in top physical shape. By any reckoning they rank among the most healthy and capable humans on the planet. And just to make sure of that, they’re required to submit to federally-mandated and monitored physical exams - including EKG- every six months. On top of that, they spend their professional lives subject to intense observation by check airmen who’ve had the authority to end their careers on the spot if any diminishment in their skills or acuity had been detected.
I'm proud to say our pilots are among the most qualified professional aviators, and frontline representatives for our company. They do a great job for us. Our passengers tell us that all the time and we always get top NPS scores. But in the near future, as our young pilots move up the career ladder and leave us for bigger, better-paying jobs with the big airlines, we will be replacing them not with less experienced but with vastly more experienced pilots.
I like that unintended consequence of the age 65 rule. And I think you will too.
See you onboard.