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Lufthansa pilots challenge mandatory retirement age at hearing

Deutsche Lufthansa AG's mandatory retirement age of 60 for pilots is being challenged at a hearing by three employees who call the practice discriminatory.

A labor court in Frankfurt will hear a suit brought by the three pilots against the airline. The case is one of the first to test Germany's new anti-discrimination law that came into effect in August. The pilots claim the labor agreement governing their contracts with Deutsche Lufthansa AG's, Europe's second-largest airline, violates the new law and European anti-discrimination principles as it forces pilots to step down when they turn 60. „My clients are fit, they love their job, and they want to fly as long as they pass all the necessary medical tests to keep their license,” Ekkehard Helmig, a Wiesbaden, Germany, lawyer representing the pilots, said in a telephone interview.

Helmig said international regulations now allow 65 as the retirement age, as long as a second pilot on duty is under 60. It should be determined on an individual basis whether a person is fit to fly, not by a general rule, he said. The plaintiffs also point to Lufthansa's regional unit, Lufthansa CityLine, where pilots may serve until the age of 65 because a different labor agreement applies. „The age limit is part of the collective bargaining agreement which was negotiated with the Pilotenvereinigung Cockpit, the pilots' organization, and we stick to it,” Michael Goentgens, a spokesman for Cologne, Germany-based Lufthansa, said in a telephone interview.

In the case of Lufthansa CityLine, labor negotiations resulted in a different rule, Goentgens said. Cityline pilots fly short distances, while the main airline's crew also has to work on intercontinental routes, he said. „German courts have confirmed that collective bargaining agreements can set 60 as the age limit,” Goentgens said. Gregor Thuesing, a professor of labor law at the University of Bonn, disagrees. „It's true that German courts used to allow the age limit of 60, but the situation has changed,” Thuesing said in a telephone interview. In addition, the company was always free to deviate from the collective bargaining agreement „as long as this is in favor of the pilots, which it is if they may keep their jobs,” Thuesing said.

Last year, Germany passed the anti-discrimination law to implement European Union rules. The Lufthansa case is one of the first major cases to be decided under the new law. „This case could well go up all the way to the European Court of Justice,” Thuesing said. One of the plaintiffs, who turned 60 in November, is already off duty. The other two will reach the age limit in April and June. The case is 6 Ca 7405/06. (Bloomberg)