Captain Sully’s own words (Sullenberger pilot of 1549)

Posted on 11. Feb, 2009 by in Featured

“One way of looking at this might be that, for 42 years, I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training,” said US Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. “And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

Sullenberger is uncharacteristically worried. He’s worried that when it comes to the bank of experience for airline pilots, there may someday be a significant shortage.

“I don’t know a single professional pilot who would recommend that their children follow in their footsteps,” he said.

This I can verify from personal experience. I am a second generation pilot and third generation in the Aviation industry. I have four children; initially I wanted to share my family’s legacy, with what has happened in recent years I stopped. I pushed my children toward medicine, law, business, a trade; anything else. “Fly for fun”, I told them.

One day I was sitting in the cockpit of an MD-80 between flights. I normally stay in the cockpit not wanting to hear how bad airline service is and how much passengers hate whatever the last airline they flew on was. Some feel compelled to come up to anyone in uniform and vent. So, I was reading about Delta and Northwest Airlines entering into chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Wall Street Journal, when my cell phone rang.
“Yeah Davy (he hates it when I call him Davy, I’m trying to stop).”
“Whatever! Hey, I don’t want to be in pre-med anymore.”
“OK, that’s a calling you need to be devoted to. What are you thinking about?”
“I want to be an Airline Pilot.”
“Son, don’t you read the paper?”
“Half the industry is in bankruptcy!”

I made a deal with him; get a back up degree and I will support your decision. It has been 3 years and his mother is still not onboard and for good reason. To her horror: my oldest son Leland returned from his hitch in the 10th Mountain Division, 2 of the 14th , Alpha Company, US Army; talking about flying. Even worse my daughter Kaitlyn texted me from class declaring she no longer wants to be a Nurse Anesthetist, instead she wants to be a fighter pilot. My wife holds out hope for our youngest, William.

David is in a professional pilot program at Central Missouri State, he’s flying and a member of the Air National Guard. So I have a finger on the pulse of the next generation of pilots. I am deeply concerned over what is happening! The best and brightest have absolutely no intention of a career at a major airline (South West the exception). Almost unanimously they want to fly for a cargo outfit like FEDEX or UPS, a fractional, or go to an overseas airline (with US bases) and fly for them. As a practicing CFI/II (certified flight instructor), former Naval Aviator and Test Pilot; I get a broad look at the profession of Aviators.

NONE of my former Military friends would consider a Major Airline unless they couldn’t get hired anywhere else. And even then they would only stay until they could get hired at a better gig. My friends who were Test Pilots, then left to be Airline Pilots, have returned to flight test. I spoke with two the other day; both have pulled their name off of United’s seniority list. Even pilots that have an established career at a Major airline are bailing. At last look 15% of my class have quit, my roommate in training one of them. I looked on the seniority list the other day for his name to see if he had returned from leave of absence. His name was gone as were two others; they will not be back. All three were former fighter pilots with years of experience. Many more across the industry have returned to active duty, for a pay raise and better quality of life. I spoke to an old squadron mate over the holiday that is a Navy Commander (not a real high rank), he told me he would stay on Military leave because he couldn’t afford the pay cut to come back and fly International wide bodies for United.

“I think that there will always be people who want to do this,” Sullenberger said. “It just may not be the same people who are doing it now.”

“Are you concerned that that means if another situation like this one comes up in the future, you won’t have as qualified a pilot flying the plane?” Couric asked.

“That just follows doesn’t it?” Sullenberger said.

Has safety peaked?

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