Using simulator checks to evaluate pilots’ cognitive skills above the age of 60 is not a good idea. This is what Europe's professional pilots think about a recent recommendation included in a report commissioned by EASA on age limitations for commercial air transport pilots.
The report published in February 2019 reopens the discussions on what the age limit for pilots in Europe ought to be. While there is no global consensus on that, European pilots favour keeping the status quo: 60 for single pilot operations, 65 for multi-crew operations. But the commercial drive for extending those limits is present and pushing researchers into suggesting ‘mitigating measures’ to fly even beyond those age limits.
For multi-crew pilot operations the research recommends keeping the age of 65 as a limit set by EASA. Any extensions would require additional risk-mitigation measures such as specific tests to support that aeromedical decision on the applicant’s fitness on an individual basis.
For single pilot operations, the EASA research however says it’s acceptable to extend the age limit to 65, provided it is accompanied by mitigating measures to reduce likelihood of pilot incapacitation. It is recommended that in addition to the bi-annual medical screening as of 40 year onwards, pilots should undergo additional simulator checks too (license proficiency check or an operator proficiency check) every 6 months.
The reasoning behind it may sound logical (on paper): simulator check, line checks and peer review provide an opportunity to detect performance which is below the standard. The report recommends that this assessment of essential cognitive factors of flight performance is integrated in the regular mandatory License Proficiency Checks or Operator Proficiency Checks. It would test pilots’ abilities to function under highly stressful demands, such as high time pressure.
Using simulator checks to assess cognitive age-related risks would lead to unreliable assessments.
Yet, European pilots do not agree with this approach. Using simulator checks to assess cognitive age-related risks would lead to unreliable assessments. Moreover, simulator instructors are not qualified medical professionals and are not specialised in age related cognitive functioning. SIM checks are an operational assessment of the professional license, not a medical check of the medical certificate.
If cognitive function needs assessing, whether in order to mitigate an otherwise higher risk age limit or not, it must be conducted by an appropriately qualified medical professional, in a clinical setting, and with only the medical certificate under consideration.
The discussions on pushing the limits will continue and EASA will be looking into possible legislative review in autumn this year. Needless to say: some limits should best not be pushed.