On the day of his 65th birthday, long-time member and current NZALPA Vice President Kim George prepares for life’s next chapter and reflects on advice he’d give his younger self. He faces the choice of retirement or continuing his flying career – globally not an option afforded to other pilots.
When you are 50, you can’t imagine being 65. It doesn’t compute. Then without warning it is here. You don’t feel older, but the kids are in their twenties and thirties, and soon you are likely to be a grandparent. All feels very weird. The sad truth is that most of us are beginning to look like we might be 65!
But being a New Zealand or Australian pilot on this significant birthday makes us unique worldwide. Our laws legislate against age discrimination so as long as we can pass our medicals and our check flights, we are OK to keep flying – albeit short-haul flying A320s or B737s domestically or across the Tasman or to other Pacific Islands.
Now I must consider:
- Can I cope with 5-6 sectors a day mentally even though I’m physically able?
- Would flying these sectors lead to better work-life balance, especially with no more back of the clock flying?
- Do I need the money? Or is it just the pleasure of working and continuing to contribute?
- I’ve flown and had a command on the smaller planes earlier in my career, but I will need a conversion course. This will help keep my mind active. Will this be a problem; can I cope with the study?
- Does my wife and family want me to retire?
As I process all of this, I’m reminded of common mistakes made by motorbike riders:
- Not anticipating far enough ahead
- Following too closely
- Taking corners too fast
My advice to my younger self would have been to think ahead and plan much earlier – I know this is challenging when you have a huge mortgage, new family and aging parents. Preparation also includes becoming qualified in as many things as possible – new technical or computer skills, a new business venture, Day Skipper or Boatmaster courses, a new language – perhaps a side-line in real estate or coastguard?
But this wasn’t my concern when I began my aviation career in the air force in January 1974, the year Eric Clapton shot the sheriff and Pink Floyd sang about money. By 1985 I was flying for Air New Zealand and got to command everything from the F27 to B777 – only the B747 eluded me.
Meanwhile, several days after my 65th birthday, we’ve just heard good news from New Zealand’s Supreme Court for two pilots working for one of Asia’s biggest airlines. Members might recall the recent litigation involving Cathay Pacific where New Zealand pilots who flew for the airline were subject to Hong Kong law, not New Zealand’s anti-discrimination legislation. This means flight crew must retire at age 55 in Hong Kong.
Maintaining that flight crew retirement age is a complex issue, Cathay Pacific continues to have discussions with the local unions, but no change appeared to be in sight. Cathay employs more than 4,500 Hong Kong-based, entry-level flight crew so argued that any extension to the retirement age would prolong the promotion time. It used to be even more challenging with each flight crew member’s birthday – it was only in 2008 that the retirement age of Cathay Pacific flight crew was aligned from 45 to 55 years as per local law.
However, New Zealand’s Supreme Court has just overturned the Court of Appeal in ruling that Cathay unit New Zealand Basing Ltd (NZBL), the subsidiary the two pilots worked for, couldn't discriminate against the pair on the grounds of age (see more in the news section). This is a fantastic result and I hope this decision sets a precedent for others.
Meanwhile, as a pilot for Air New Zealand, the day I’m eligible for my Gold Card means I can choose to retire or continue on with the airline. For this choice, and the work NZALPA has done over the years to make sure this is maintained without exception, we can all be grateful.
CAPTAIN KIM GEORGE’s GREATEST HITS
“A dark and stormy night in 1999 I was flying a late night freight run to Christchurch and back. A large bird, perhaps a duck, went through the port engine. First evidence of a problem was the yawing aircraft and flames from the back of the engine, which were reflecting off the clouds in front of us. The plane was reluctant to climb on just the one engine. My F/O managed to do all the drills, shut it down, carry out an approach down to minima, land and taxi in. We were ordered by crew control to wait while they put the freight into another aircraft so we could get back on the horse. No stand down. No understanding of delayed shock, or any consideration then of the effects of an emergency. Those were the days!”
“With the world’s first flying Mosquito to come out of Ardmore, my father (a highly decorated bomber command pathfinder and last of the Mosquito pilots still alive) was invited to the unveiling as a special guest. Unfortunately, I was required to fly. I approached the fleet captain at the time and he told me they’d sort out the flying (B767 in those days) – ‘You go and look after your father and get him to the Airshow,’ he said. A month later he was invited again as a special guest down to the Wings over Wairarapa. He was 96 year old. I was a proud son and both functions were incredible.”