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Air CanadaTimothy Stake

Air Canada must reinstate two pilots who want to return to work and fly beyond the collective agreement's retirement age of 60, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

George Vilven, now 67, and Neil Kelly, now 65, allege that they were unfairly forced to retire from Air Canada at 60.

The tribunal said Monday that the two men's return to the cockpit will be subject to retraining, a current pilot licence and "a valid medical certificate showing that they are fit to fly a commercial aircraft under the applicable Transport Canada medical standards."

The tribunal rejected the pair's request for $20,000 each for pain and suffering, but said "lost income" should be paid retroactive to Sept. 1, 2009, until the reinstatement date, with rights that place Mr. Kelly at No. 5 and Mr. Vilven at No. 751 on the pilots' seniority list.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the Montreal-based carrier is "studying the decision. We will continue to comply with the law and regulations governing our industry."

Mr. Vilven welcomed the reinstatement ruling. "I'm going to be popping the champagne cork," he said in an interview, adding that he's also rooting for other retired Air Canada pilots who are itching to fly again, saying the carrier's mandatory retirement age of 60 will continue to be challenged.

Monday's decision is the latest development in the long-running case of alleged age discrimination, in which a group called the Fly Past 60 Coalition backed the two men in their fight against Air Canada and the union representing the airline's pilots.

Raymond Hall, a lawyer and retired Air Canada pilot who heads the coalition, said there are nearly 150 other retired pilots seeking to fly again, but he cautioned that Monday's ruling is specific to Mr. Vilven and Mr. Kelly.

"There is no legal precedent established by this case, but a principle has been set and perhaps other cases will be able to rely on the principle to help reach future decisions," he said.

Mr. Hall said Air Canada lags most other global carriers, noting that the International Civil Aviation Organization allows a pilot aged 60 to 65 to be in the cockpit on overseas flights, as long as the other pilot is under 60.

On an appeal by the Air Canada Pilots Association and the airline, the Federal Court of Canada is slated to begin a four-day hearing on Nov. 22 into the tribunal's 2009 interpretation of the Canadian Human Rights Act and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, as it relates to the pilots' retirement rights.

The association said in a statement in July that it "believes the tribunal erred at law by ignoring Supreme Court of Canada decisions which found it acceptable for employers and employees to determine a retirement age through the collective bargaining process."

Association president Paul Strachan said Monday that a recent internal survey of pilots by the union showed that 82 per cent of the respondents favoured keeping the retirement age at 60 or younger.