The pilot in the cockpit? In Japan, he might be a retiree
NAGASAKI, Japan — Shigekazu Miyazaki is spending what should have been his retirement 25,000 feet in the air.
Miyazaki, a pilot with nearly four decades’ experience at All Nippon Airways, Japan’s largest airline, left the carrier last year at its mandatory retirement age of 65. But rather than take up golf or fishing, Miyazaki since April has been piloting 39-seat propeller planes for Oriental Air Bridge, a tiny airline that connects the southwestern city of Nagasaki to a group of remote islands.
“I never would have thought I’d still be flying at 65,” Miyazaki, who is trim and has a deep voice and a full head of gray hair, said before a recent flight. “But I’m still healthy, and I love to fly, so why not do it as long as I can?”
A man in his seventh decade extending his commercial flying career still qualifies as a novelty in Japan — but maybe not for long.
The aging of Japan’s workforce is prompting a rethinking of traditional career paths and government safety nets. The country has the world’s longest life expectancy, little immigration and a dwindling population of young workers, the result of decades of low birthrates. Last month, the Japanese government said the number of births last year fell below 1 million for the first time since it began tracking the figure in 1899.
All that makes older workers more crucial to the economy. More than half of Japanese men over 65 do some kind of paid work, according to government surveys, compared with a third of American men and as little as 10 percent in parts of Europe.
Japan’s economy is beginning to hum again, thanks largely to demand for its exports, but its lack of workers could limit growth. Unemployment is a rock-bottom 2.8 percent, and companies are scrambling to find staff. At the same time, retiring baby boomers are straining the pension system, prompting the government to raise the age at which older people can collect benefits.
Japan may offer a peek into the near future for other developed countries with aging workforces, including the United States.
“If places like Germany and