The pi­lot in the cock­pit? In Ja­pan, he might be a re­tiree

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

the United States are rais­ing the age where peo­ple can col­lect pen­sions to 67, there’s no rea­son Ja­pan shouldn’t go to 70,” said At­sushi Seike, an ex­pert on la­bor eco­nomics at Keio Univer­sity in Tokyo. “We’re reach­ing a point where a 40-year ca­reer is just half the av­er­age life span, and hav­ing peo­ple be­come in­ac­tive early is un­sus­tain­able.”

Older work­ers may also partly ex­plain the puz­zle of Ja­pan’s stag­nant wages, which have barely budged de­spite low un­em­ploy­ment. Older work­ers gen­er­ally earn much less than at the peak of their ca­reers, off­set­ting in­creases among the young and mid­dle-aged.

Ori­en­tal Air Bridge had never hired a pi­lot Miyazaki’s age be­fore, but, with skilled pi­lots in short sup­ply na­tion­wide, it has been ex­pand­ing its re­cruit­ing.

For Miyazaki, the choice to keep fly­ing was a lux­ury. As a cap­tain at All Nip­pon, where he flew Boe­ing 767s, pri­mar­ily to South­east Asia, he earned the equiv­a­lent of sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars a year plus a gen­er­ous pen­sion. Ori­en­tal Air Bridge pays him only about a third of his peak salary, but he says he does not mind.

“The jets I used to fly were highly au­to­mated,” he said. “But now, with the pro­pel­ler planes, I can en­joy a freer, more vis­ual kind of fly­ing. It means get­ting back to the ba­sics as a pi­lot.”

Some jobs in Ja­pan are be­com­ing dis­tinctly gray. More than half of Ja­panese taxi driv­ers are over 60, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Health, La­bor and Wel­fare, while less than 10 per­cent are un­der 40.

Mori­masa Mizunoya, a re­tired jew­eler, re­cently signed up for work at a Tokyo se­niors’ cen­ter, un­der a gov­ern­ment-spon­sored pro­gram that matches older work­ers with em­ploy­ers of­fer­ing short-term and part-time jobs. It is a “gig econ­omy” plat­form with­out the smart­phone app: Se­niors reg­is­ter in per­son, while would-be em­ploy­ers call or email the cen­ter with of­fers.

“My eyes started go­ing, so that was the end of jew­elry,” Mizunoya, 69, said as he pasted a sheet of fresh white pa­per onto a tra­di­tional Ja­panese slid­ing door. A build­ing owner needed 60 ex­tra-large doors repa­pered, a job Mizunoya and an­other re­tiree hoped to fin­ish in about two weeks. Nor­mally they made 1,400 yen a door, or about $13, but the big­ger ones paid more.

“The money’s not great, but it’s some­thing to do,” said Mizunoya, who said he spent most of his non­work days play­ing Go, the an­cient board game, and lived off money from a real es­tate in­vest­ment and the ex­tra he earned with the doors.

Yoshim­itsu Hori, who runs the job pro­gram at the se­niors’ cen­ter, said de­mand for work­ers ex­ceeded sup­ply. Not all jobs were pop­u­lar, though. The max­i­mum re­quests were for peo­ple to clean apart­ments and of­fices, which few wanted to do. Stuff­ing en­velopes, af­fix­ing la­bels to empty bento boxes and tak­ing tick­ets at mu­se­ums were viewed as bet­ter gigs.

At Ori­en­tal Air Bridge, snag­ging a pi­lot of any age from a big in­ter­na­tional air­line is a coup. The com­pany’s of­fice is a cor­ru­gated tin build­ing at the edge of Na­gasaki Air­port, and its out­dated hangars are too small for its two planes to fit com­pletely in­side. It is plan­ning to ex­pand, with new routes and a sharper fo­cus on tourism.

Miyazaki said he swam twice a week to main­tain his health, and he un­der­went more phys­i­cal test­ing than younger pi­lots — MRIs, elec­tro­car­dio­grams, tread­mill tests for stamina. Un­der cur­rent Ja­panese reg­u­la­tions, he will have to stop fly­ing com­mer­cially at 68, but the gov­ern­ment has started ex­am­in­ing whether to ex­tend the max­i­mum age to 70.

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