Being a pilot is an exciting, well-respected career that many enjoy doing for as long as they possibly can. So when do pilots usually retire?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), commercial pilots have to retire at age 65. There is currently no maximum age limit for being a private pilot or for being an Air Force pilot.
If you’re a pilot or thinking about becoming one, then it’s important to have an idea about when you might have to retire in the future. In this article, we’ll take a look at when pilots typically retire, what they do after retirement, and whether most airline pilots get a good retirement in terms of pensions or payouts.
Our main goal here at SkyTough is to be your number one resource for everything related to aviation — including all you need to know about your career as a pilot. As for retirement age, there are rules and restrictions that must be followed, so you can trust that everything you read below is as accurate as possible. For all other information, we combine our experience with the input of pilots from all over to make sure you get the most helpful content that you can find.
At What Age Do Pilots Retire At?
Whenever someone starts working in any career field, the question of retirement is something that should be at least somewhere in the back of their mind. Even though at the time you start your career, no matter the field, retirement is likely a long way away, it’s still an important thing to think about. One of the worst things that can happen in life is getting to retirement age and not being prepared for it.
It’s also important to know of any sort of mandatory retirement age before you even begin a career so that you know if it’s worth getting into in the first place. For example, if you have to retire from a job at 60 years old and you’re considering that career path at age 58, it likely isn’t worth pursuing for such a short amount of time.
So what about pilots? What age do they typically retire at?
Is There A Mandatory Retirement Age For Pilots?
It’s a pretty widely known fact that motor skills and other things begin to slowly deteriorate with age. And as a pilot, you always need to be able to quickly see things, analyze a situation, and be able to react to what’s going on. Especially as a commercial pilot when you have potentially hundreds of people’s lives onboard counting on you to safely fly the aircraft.
That said, it makes sense that there is a mandatory retirement age for pilots. Currently, pilots must stop flying commercially at age 65. This age limit was originally introduced by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2006, and was adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December of 2007.
Before age 65 was set as the mandatory retirement age, it was previously age 60 at which pilots were forced to stop flying commercially. So thanks to these rule changes, pilots are able to enjoy an additional 5 years of their career before needing to retire. There have been talks in recent years about increasing this retirement age again, up to to age 67 due to the projected pilot shortage in coming years. But that hasn’t happened yet and it remains at age 65.
Can Retired Pilots Still Fly Privately?
Keep in mind that the 65 year old limit above applies only to commercial pilots and their ability to obtain a commercial pilot license and be able to legally fly commercial planes. That then begs the question as to whether pilots are still able to fly privately even after age 65. Or does retiring as a commercial pilot immediately also deem a pilot retired from all forms of flight, including privately flying their own plane?
Thankfully for pilots that just love to fly (and who doesn’t love to fly?!), there is no age limit on obtaining a private pilot license, much less on continuing to fly privately after retiring from flying commercially. And since obtaining a private pilot certificate is part of the process involved in becoming a commercial pilot to begin with, retired commercial pilots will have the ability to keep flying if they so choose.
This means that pilots can either get a job with a private company that isn’t flying commercially (cargo or passengers), or they can just fly for fun with their own private airplane. Since there are quite a few airplanes that are relatively affordable for the average person to buy, I wouldn’t be surprised if a large portion of retired pilots do buy their own plane. I know of quite a few pilots in this exact position personally!
When Do Air Force Pilots Have To Retire?
So far you’ve learned that commercial pilots must retire by age 65 and private pilots never technically have to retire and can fly for as long as they want. But where does that leave Air Force pilots? After all, military aircraft are without a doubt some of the most expensive and most technologically advanced pieces of equipment in the entire world. Surely the military won’t want their pilots’ motor skills deteriorating, right?
Technically speaking, there is no retirement age that’s strictly enforced on Air Force pilots, which might surprise you. Instead, they must retire by age 62 as with all other military officers. So in theory, Air Force pilots could potentially be flying aircraft all the way up until age 62 when they have to retire from the service entirely. But that’s almost never actually the case.
The reason for this is that as Air Force pilots rise through the ranks of the Air Force, they will naturally have less and less flying responsibilities. That fact combined with the fact that most pilots are no longer flying after about 15 years of service due to the physical strain, and you likely won’t ever see a 60 year old Air Force pilot actively flying combat missions.
The last caveat to all of this is that there is a maximum age of 33 that prospective pilots can begin pilot training in the Air Force (up to 35 with certain waivers). So even if someone begins flight training at age 33 and then has the typical upper end of 15 years worth of flying service, then would likely be done flying by age 48.
So as far as Air Force pilots go, it’s less of a mandatory retirement age and more of a natural shift to roles that require less flying.
Do Airline Pilots Have A Good Retirement?
We’ve looked extensively at if and when the different types of pilots need to retire, but what happens once that time comes? Commercial/airline pilots undoubtedly have great careers filled with high earnings and plenty of perks, but what about their retirements? Let’s take a look at how the retirement systems for commercial pilots compare to other career fields and industries out there.
Commercial pilots typically have the same type of retirement plans that you can find at most other career fields in the world. Most major airlines offer 401(k) retirement plans with a match of some sort. It’s estimated that the average contributions from pilots in the industry ranges from 1% to 9.3% with a 100% match at most major airlines.
What does this mean in terms of actual retirement? Let’s take a look at a quick example to see how this might turn out in the future for an airline pilot.
Let’s take the median pilot salary in the United States of $130,440. Then, let’s use the upper end of the aforementioned average pilot contributions, where they contribute 9.3% of their salary with a 100% match from their employer. This means that a total of $24,261.84 ($12,130.92 from the pilot and airline each) will go into their 401(k) annually.
Now let’s say that the pilot works for 35 years at these rates, from age 30 to mandatory retirement at age 65. If we take the average S&P 500 returns of ~10%, the total amount in the retirement account alone at age 65 will be $7.2 million. Adjusted for inflation (of 3%) per year, it should be closer to about $3.6 million in terms of today’s dollars. Then using the safe withdrawal rate of 4% per year, that pilot can have an annual income of about $144,000.
If those numbers seem high, that’s simply the power of continuous contributions into an investment account and the power of compound interest. That of course also requires a high salary and a 100% match from the airline. But the bottom line is that pilots can certainly have incredible retirements in the future based on their high salaries and ability to stash more money away!
What Do Pilots Do After Retiring?
All this talk about when pilots have to retire from flying might seem kind of bleak for anyone that’s excited to become a pilot. Because trust me, I love everything there is about flying and aviation in general. But as much as I love it, I’m also a firm believer that we should work to live, not live to work.
That said, the great thing about being a pilot (at least for many pilots) is that it never really actually feels like work. Sure, some days are better than others and there are undoubtedly days that you’d rather be at home than flying to a city you’ve flown to hundreds of other times. But what other job in the world enables you to see so many other places and have the best vantage point in the skies?
At some point, though, it will come time to hang up your wings and put being a pilot on the back burner. At least if you’re a commercial pilot and you’re forced to retire at age 65. But if you’re still obsessed with flying and want to stick with it, one of the most common things that retired pilots do is become a flight instructor.
As a flight instructor, you’ll still get to stay up to date on all the new upgrades and improvements that modern-day airplanes seem to undergo seemingly all the time. And you’ll also get to fly new aircraft (or simulators) to scratch that flying itch. Better yet, you’ll be able to pass your skills and love for flying on to the next generation of pilots. What could be better than instilling those same feelings into someone else and helping them become the best pilot they can be?
While that’s something many pilots do who still want to continue working, many pilots also want to really call it quits when the time comes. This leads to a large number of pilots doing what many other people do after retirement — travel. I know what you’re thinking, why would retired pilots want to travel if that’s all they did during their entire careers?
The truth is, although pilots do get to see all sorts of different places and get to visit different cities and maybe even countries, they don’t really get to enjoy them. Usually after long flights, the pilots just have to catch up on sleep and get back on a plane shortly thereafter. So once they retire, many pilots will take advantage of their free time and truly enjoy all the different places that they can visit.
So if you’re a pilot coming up on your retirement, it’s time to get out there and enjoy your life. If that takes on the form of becoming a flight instructor, travelling the world, or anything else in between, that’s up to you. The world is your oyster. So get out there and have fun!
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood