(CN) – Europe’s high court barred Lufthansa from forcing pilots into retirement when they turn 60.
Three captains working for the German-based airline filed suit in 2009 when their employment contracts were automatically terminated once they turned 60.
Lufthansa wrote forced retirement into its collective bargaining agreement, even though German and international law keep pilots on the job until they are 65.
Standards adopted in 2006 by the International Civil Aviation Organization allow pilots to work on deck when they are between ages 60 and 64, but they can only do so as part of a crew that includes another pilot under 60.
The German Federal Labor Court had referred the case to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union.
Although age discrimination is not allowed in the EU as a general principle, such measures can be justified for the safety of airplane passengers, according to Europe’s high court.
Working as a pilot requires certain physical abilities that can be limited by age, the justices found.
In the end, however, the court said restrictions on older pilots may suffice – as reflected in German and international law – while a full prohibition is unnecessary.
As such, Lufthansa’s age limit of 60 for pilots is not in accordance with the law and must be changed, the court concluded.
German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Lufthansa interpreted the ruling as not having an immediate effect, since it thinks the labor court must first transpose the EU court’s provisions into national law.
Cologne-based Lufthansa is one of Europe’s biggest airlines and employs more than 65,000 people in Germany. Lufthansa told Der Spiegel that the collective bargaining agreement applies to around 4,200 pilots.