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the jack lawrence crash

Richard Moon has been flying for 41 years, but the view from 1,500 metres up hasn't lost any of its novelty.

When the 67-year-old pilot and former owner of a flight school in London, Ont., soars over the shores of Lake Huron in his Cessna 172, he still gets a rush.

"It's just the freedom of being able to fly around the areas here and not be restricted to where you can go and where you can't go," he said.

He will be able to hold on to the freedom that comes with his commercial pilot licence as long as he passes a medical exam in February.

Since he turned 40 - the understood baseline for "old" in the piloting community - Mr. Moon has been required by Transport Canada to pass a medical exam every six months in order to renew his commercial licence, which allows a pilot to fly internationally with passengers for payment.

But for private licences - which allow for international flights with passengers and attachments such as floats - those exams are required only every two years. And if you just want a recreational licence - which lets you fly over Canadian airspace with one passenger - all you need is a self-declaration of medical fitness signed by a doctor, which has to be presented to Transport Canada every five years.

On Monday, 75-year-old Bay Street power broker and private-licence holder Jack Lawrence died when his Cessna 206 crashed in Ontario's Muskoka region. Just weeks earlier, his good friend and fellow pilot Ron Joyce had warned him that he might be too old to fly on his own.

Air Canada pilots are forced to retire at 60. British Airways pilots must retire at 55. But flight enthusiasts in their 70s, 80s and even 90s regularly take the controls of small planes in Canada. In June, Transport Canada reported that among the 65-and-older set, there were 3,463 people with private licences, 316 with commercial licences and 289 with airline transport licences (required to captain a large aircraft).

There is no upper age limit to acquire or renew a pilot licence in Canada - all you have to do is log the hours, complete the training and pass the medical exams, when necessary.

"I don't think there should be any restriction other than the medical. It's no different than driving a car," Mr. Moon said from his home in Thamesford, Ont.

He said he knows a pilot who is older than 90 and routinely passes his medical exams. "As far as I was concerned, he was in tip-top health," he said.

Mr. Moon takes his plane up once a month for one or two hours, and he said he plans to continue to "as long as my health holds up."

Matt Bernardi, a flight instructor at the Algonquin Flight Centre in North Bay, Ont., said there shouldn't be age restrictions on getting or renewing a pilot licence, but he said there should be both medical and performance-based tests to ensure older pilots are fit to fly.

"Unfortunately, [licence renewal]doesn't encompass a flight test," Mr. Bernardi said. "When you've been flying for a while and haven't done the test, there's the temptation to bend the rules a little bit."

He said some older pilots slip into "bad habits" decades after their initial flight tests, such as not following the right order of steps when landing.

Mr. Joyce, a co-founder of Tim Hortons and Mr. Lawrence's close friend, said that about five years ago, when he was in his early 70s, he decided he was too old to fly without a co-pilot and he let his private licence expire, downgrading his qualifications to recreational pilot.

"I just reached a point in my life where I thought, 'Yeah, I'm a pretty good pilot, but there's always the unknown and I'd be a lot more comfortable if there was somebody beside me that could take over for whatever reason,'" said Mr. Joyce, 78.

He said that in recent years, Mr. Lawrence had also made a habit of recruiting a co-pilot, but there wasn't always someone available, and if weather conditions were fine, it was tempting to fly solo.

Eleanor Eastick didn't get her pilot licence until she turned 50. Now 66, she said her flying skills have improved with age. "I've become more aware of self-policing," she said from her home in Victoria. "When you're young, you think you can do anything; when you're older, you can't."

A year and a half ago, she completed a medical exam to get her commercial pilot licence. But she said she has no desire to fly a jetliner and has let it downgrade to a private licence.

Mr. Bernardi said that creating an age cutoff would not be taken well by the hobby pilot community. "To say at 65 or 70 you can't fly any more, there are many pilots out there who won't be too happy with that," he said.

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