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Careers

Flying the Faraway Skies

A new law raised the retirement age for U.S. airline pilots from 60 to 65. But Herb Holland and thousands like him were left in the cold. As told to Mary Beth Franklin

How does the new law affect you? Pilots who turned 60 on or after December 13, 2007, can work until 65. But people like me, who turned 60 before that date, had to retire. I missed the deadline by 43 days.

Can you reapply for your old job? Yes, but I would have to give up my seniority and start all over again at the bottom of the food chain. I'm part of the Senior Pilots Coalition that is challenging the new law in court.

How did you end up in Kazakhstan? I walked away from my job at US Airways with no pension -- because I had originally worked for America West, whose pilots had no pension plan -- and only the money that I had managed to save on my own. I wasn't ready to give up flying, and working overseas where pilots can fly until 65 was the only option. I started working for Air Astana last February.

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Did you take a pay cut? No. Top pilots for US Airways earn about $150,000 a year. Between the salary and the monthly housing allowance, it's almost a wash financially. I get paid in euros, so every time the dollar falls, I get a raise.

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Do you like your new job? As a young Marine pilot in Vietnam, I never dreamed that I'd be flying planes for a former Soviet-bloc country. But I enjoy what I'm doing. The airline is run professionally and the maintenance is top-notch. I pilot the same plane, an A320 Airbus, that I flew for US Airways, but now I'm flying to Istanbul, Dubai, Delhi and Moscow, and all over Kazakhstan.

What about the language barrier? All international air traffic is conducted in English, and the manuals are written in English. But there can be a language problem with local crews.

What's the hardest part about being away from home? I miss my family. My wife, Sandee, is home in Phoenix, and my two grown daughters are in Kansas City, Mo. I'm home for two weeks and gone for six weeks. It takes two days to travel to Kazakhstan.

Any suggestions for the U.S. airline industry? Yeah. Make all the drinks free and charge for the toilets.