Sixty? Time to come down to earth

Most pilots like the current system because it gives them flexibility and allows constant progression to the top jobs: seventy-eight per cent of association members voted last year to keep the 60-and-out rule because it gives everyone a chance to maximize their pension, which is based on the last five years of earnings.

“These (older) guys didn’t earn their seats, they were given to them by the guys who retired before them,” says 33-year-old regional jet captain Cory Brown. “They have an obligation to move aside.”

By extending their time in the top jobs, the seniors pilots will hurt everyone else, says Brown. Even holidays are dictated by seniority: “I will have to fly a few more years before I can be with my son at Christmas. If these guys stay longer it will cost me money throughout my whole career.”

Neil Kelly, one of the two older pilots who were reinstated, had been hoping for two more years as captain of an Airbus A340 when he was forced out. Not only was the plane retired soon after he was, but his legal challenge took so long that when he finally returned to Air Canada in February, he was forced to take a demotion to first officer because ICAO stipulates captains must be under the age of 65.

George Vilven, the first Air Canada pilot to challenge mandatory retirement, had started retraining but is now on medical leave. He’s been deeply affected by the almost 8-year-battle and the vitriol from fellow pilots.

“It felt threatening at times,” he says. “Guys said they would meet me in the parking lot.”

Most hurtful was a “joke” at a group retirement party in Winnipeg a few years ago — an effigy of Vilven as a corpse-like mannequin sporting a bulbous nose and an Air Canada pilot’s uniform.

“They were definitely laughing at me, not with me,” he recalls.

Ennis is so sensitive to the simmering outrage over mandatory retirement, he avoids discussions about his looming 60th birthday or the reasons he wants to stay.

“This has nothing to do with greed,” says Ennis. “We have a good pension. I could stay at home and live quite comfortably. But I’m much too young to just play golf all day.”

Instead, Ennis will fly between Istanbul and Toronto with regular layovers at home and eight days off per month. He’ll be making about two-thirds of his Air Canada salary — on top of his $130,000 pension.

“Pilots ask (on online forums such as, ‘Why weren’t you talking about this 25 years ago?’ Well, back then it was unthinkable for a pilot to go past 60 years old.

“Medical science has advanced and we live so much longer now. Five or six years ago other airlines in the world started changing (to extend retirement age) and I thought, ‘Why should I have to leave Air Canada if I can fly somewhere else?’ ”

On Friday, Ennis and two other pilots filed a complaint against his union with the Canada Industrial Relations Board in a last-ditch effort to hang on to their jobs. Ennis thinks it’s inevitable the 60-and-out rule will die, but unlikely in time for him to stay at the airline.