WASHINGTON — US Transportation Committee approves controversial increase in pilot retirement age.

The US House of Representatives' transportation committee has given the green light to a proposed increase in the compulsory retirement age for airline pilots. Despite pushback from pilot unions, the legislation, which would raise the age from 65 to 67, has been championed by regional airlines. The legislation passed by a slim margin, leaving uncertainty as to whether it will ultimately be ratified.

The proposed change is part of a wider House bill designed to secure funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) once its current funding expires in October. The broader bill will face a House vote in July, according to the committee. A US Senate committee is slated to vote on its own rendition of the funding bill, after which the two versions will need to be reconciled to form a single law.

The Regional Airline Association (RAA), which represents regional airlines adversely affected by the ongoing pilot shortage, supports the age increase. The RAA believes the two-year extension will provide immediate relief to smaller community air services.

According to the RAA, raising the retirement age will provide an immediate solution to the pilot shortage while allowing long-term solutions to be developed. The group also argues it's the right move for pilots who are forced into retirement while they still have contributions to make.

In the US, regional airlines have had to ground hundreds of planes and reduce service to smaller communities due to a lack of pilots. Current data shows about 490 regional jets are in storage, with 1,340 in service.

Airlines for America, the association for large US airlines, refrained from commenting on the issue.

Meanwhile, US pilot unions are expressing concern, rejecting claims of a pilot shortage and blaming airline mismanagement and low wages for recruitment difficulties. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) criticized the proposed age increase as "anti-union" and "politically driven". The ALPA, which represents pilots at multiple airlines, warns that the change could exacerbate pilot-training backlogs, deviate from international standards, and undermine aviation safety.

ALPA President Jason Ambrosi noted the health risks associated with increasing age and said it would be unwise for Congress to impose its own view on safety. The ALPA points out that the existing International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards set retirement at age 65.

The union warns that US pilots older than 65 could be restricted from certain international flights, typically operated by widebody aircraft. This would necessitate retraining on narrowbody jets, which could displace junior pilots and create a backlog of training.

The Allied Pilot Association (APA), representing American Airlines' pilots, also opposes the age increase. APA President Ed Sicher claims that current age 65 retirement mandate was established with safety considerations and raising it would introduce additional risk into commercial aviation.