EU Court Rules Airlines Can Ground Pilots Based on Their Age

Jul 5, 2017

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When a Lufthansa pilot’s contract was terminated by the company the day he turned 65 in 2013, he knew it wasn’t a coincidence. Werner Fries, a Lufthansa captain and instructor, fought the airline’s decision when it happened, but when he didn’t get the response he wanted, he brought it to court in the form of an age-discrimination lawsuit. However, the European Union’s Court of Justice said in a ruling today that Lufthansa had the right to terminate the 65-year-old’s contract for safety reasons.

“It is undeniable that the physical capabilities essential to the profession of an airline pilot diminish with age,” the EU’s top court said in its ruling. This, meaning that EU airlines are allowed to terminate the contract of pilots when they believe the employee is too old to safely do his or her job. More specifically, the court’s decision stated that setting a strict age limit led to a difference in treatment based on the employee’s age but that “is justified in ensuring civil aviation safety in Europe.”

According to Bloomberg, pilot groups are arguing that it makes no sense to ground crew at 65, as there’s a shortage of trained pilots and the rest of the population is expected to work longer before retiring. On the contrary, a Lufthansa spokesman said that the carrier welcomed the court’s decision.

The ruling said that pilots who are grounded because of their age at 65 would still be able to conduct “ferry flights, operated by an air carrier transporting no passengers and no cargo or mail, or from working as an instructor and/or examiner on board.” The Court of Justice’s ruling made today is binding and cannot be appealed by national courts, meaning the age limit can apply to all EU-based carriers.

This is an interesting ruling from the EU. In November 2006, the US increased the maximum age for pilots from 60 to 65 — meaning they must retire at the age. The EU ruling comes at a heated time in the EU regarding flight crew health. In 2015, a Germanwings co-pilot crashed an aircraft into the Alps, killing all on board. After the fact, the pilot was found to have suffered from mental health problems.

Featured image courtesy of Digital Vision via Getty Images.

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