The ECJ has held that a collective agreement prohibiting airline pilots from working after the age of 60 is incompatible with EU law and constitutes age discrimination.

The facts

Reinhard Prigge, Michael Fromm and Volker Lambach were employed for many years by Deutsche Lufthansa as pilots then flight captains. When they reached 60 years of age their employment contracts terminated automatically, in accordance with the Deutsche Lufthansa collective agreement. The three pilots brought age discrimination claims before the German courts for a declaration that their employment relationships with Deutsche Lufthansa had not terminated at age 60 and an order that their employment contracts should continue.

International and German legislation (the Joint Aviation Requirements – Flight Crew Licensing 1) provides that, between the ages of 60 and 64, an airline pilot may not continue to act as a pilot unless he is a member of a multi-pilot crew and the other pilots are under 60. The legislation prohibits pilots from acting as pilots beyond 65.

The Bundesarbeitsgericht (Federal Labour Court in Germany) asked the ECJ whether a collective agreement which provides for an age-limit of 60 for airline pilots for the purposes of air safety is compatible with the Framework Directive 2000/78.

The ECJ’s decision

The ECJ noted that the collective agreements entered into with the social partners must, as with the national laws of the Member States, respect the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of age. This principle is recognised as a general principle of EU law and is given specific expression by the Directive in the domain of employment and occupation (for further reading on this point, see Kücükdeveci).

Next, the ECJ stated that the limitation of pilots acting as pilots to age 60 pursues the objective of guaranteeing the safety of passengers, persons in areas over which aircraft fly and the safety and health of pilots themselves, which may justify a difference in treatment, and that that limitation may be provided for in a collective agreement. However, the ECJ noted that international and German legislation considered that it was not necessary to prohibit pilots from acting as pilots after the age of 60 but that it sufficed merely to restrict those activities.

The ECJ stated that possessing particular physical capabilities may be considered as a genuine and determining occupational requirement for acting as an airline pilot and that the possession of such capabilities is related to age. As that requirement is aimed at guaranteeing air traffic safety, it pursues a legitimate health and safety objective under Article 4(1) and may justify a difference in treatment on grounds of age (the ECJ did not accept “air safety” as a legitimate employment or social policy objective under Article 6(1)).

The ECJ noted that the international and German authorities consider that, until the age of 65, pilots have the physical capabilities to act as a pilot, even if, between 60 and 65, they may do so only as a member of a crew in which the other pilots are younger than 60. In contrast, the Lufthansa social partners fixed the age limit at which pilots are considered as no longer possessing the capacity to carry out their occupational activity at 60.

In those circumstances, the ECJ held that the age-limit of 60 for commercial piloting, as imposed by the Lufthansa social partners, constituted a disproportionate requirement in light of international and German legislation fixing the age-limit at 65 and so constituted unlawful age discrimination.

The judgment is available here.

Reinhard Prigge, Michael Fromm and Volker Lambach -v- Deutsche Lufthansa AG, C-447/09