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PILOTS-1ST-LEDE 12-13

Pilot retirement age raised

CHICAGO — Ending an airline industry controversy that has smoldered for a half-century, President Bush signed a bill Thursday that raises the retirement age for commercial pilots to 65 from 60, a standard observed by the rest of the world.

Pilots say the new law reflects the reality that today’s 60-year-olds are physically fit enough to continue flying and their experience shouldn’t be taken out of the cockpit.

The new law doesn’t come a day too soon for Southwest Airlines Captain Paul Emens, 59, who has spent more than a decade trying to convince members of Congress to rewrite federal rules that require pilots to retire by their 60th birthdays.

The new law doesn’t allow pilots who have already turned 60 to reclaim their jobs or seniority, the all-important pecking order at airlines that establishes work assignments and compensation.

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Pilots who’ve already retired would be allow to resume their careers, provided they go back as lowly new hires, assigned as co-pilots on a carrier’s smallest aircraft.

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