On January 15, 2009, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan after both engines were disabled by a bird strike. All 155 people on board the plane survived. It was the defining moment in a distinguished career.
Sully believes all pilots should be continuous learners, constantly striving for excellence. “Two things that have always resonated with me and have fueled my intellectual curiosity and desire to become the best pilot I could be were mastery of the machine and the freedom of flight. Rising above the surface just a few thousand feet gives one a much more complete perspective of the world.”
Surviving the unthinkable
Sully references his dramatic landing ten years ago as an example of why aspiring pilots should be armed with both technical and human skills, along with the resilience to handle any situation. He credits the first officer on that fateful flight, Jeffrey Skiles, who sprang into action instinctively.
“If you listen to the cockpit voice recorder transcript of our flight, at several points on his own he did things to help that he knew I would need.” Sully believes it was Skiles’ experience and skill that helped save lives that day.
Changing the cockpit culture
“I consider this noble profession a calling, not just a job,” says Sully, who believes it’s vital to create an environment in which all crew members are willing to do their best work, and see that best practices are adhered to on every flight.
“It’s about having the dedication, diligence and discipline to share information, make good decisions, manage workloads, handle distractions and create a shared sense of responsibility among all team members for the successful outcome.”
Receiving the proper training
Sully stresses that training should be thorough and prepare pilots for any circumstance. “It should do more than provide you with a sterile, sheltered training environment. It should teach you to fly in the real world of operational flying, with all its ambiguities and vagaries.”
Variables like weather and equipment mean flight students must be prepared for the unexpected, and should learn to control their “startle factor,” or fear reaction, in a crisis.
The sky’s the limit
Sully believes aviation careers are an important part of our society and economy. For those considering a career in the industry, now is an ideal time to become an aviation professional.
“It’s an exciting time. I’m doing everything I can to encourage people to pursue their passion and, as I say, have real adventures in the real world.”