Three pilots who were forced out of the cockpit at 60 challenged an agreement made between Germany's national carrier and trade unions, which will now have to be renegotiated. This will also bring the airline into line with international standards, where the trend has been to raise retirement ages in recent years.
The three plaintiffs had argued that they were, “fit and competent and would like to fly.” The court ruled that not allowing them in the air if they were healthy and capable of doing their jobs, could be considered discrimination.
For many years, pilots were forced to retire from airlines when they reach 60, due mostly to health concerns. But older pilots have been pushing airlines and regulators to allow them to continue flying until they reach 65.
Older pilots can make €200,000 a year, so the suspicion is that airlines are keen to get them to retire to make way for younger, cheaper pilots.
Health is also a concern – and currently pilots over the age of 60 are always assigned a younger co-pilot in the cockpit.
“The probability of getting a heart attack or serious injury increases with age,” said Jörg Handwerg, spokesman for the pilots‘ association Cockpit, although he had no statistics on accidents.
Yet a 2007 study of 118 pilots from Stanford University came to a different result, showing older pilots outperformed their younger colleagues.
Ekkehard Helmig, the German lawyer who represented the Lufthansa pilots and has 75 more similar cases on the go, said he intended to “seek individual solutions” with airlines that still demand pilots retire at 60.
At least two of his clients, however, won't benefit from the lawsuit. One has died since it was filed. Another is set to turn 65 soon.
Similar controversies to those at Lufthansa have broken out in countries around the world over the last decade, including in the US.
There, in 2007 President George W. Bush signed into law regulations that would allow pilots to retire at 65, much to the consternation of unions and younger pilots.