Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has flown his final flight.
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has flown his final flight.
The pilot who landed a US Airways plane safely on the Hudson River last January said Wednesday he is retiring after 30 years and plans to spend some of his time pressing for more flight safety.
“My message going forward is that I want to remind everyone in the aviation industry – especially those who manage aviation companies and those who regulate aviation – that we owe it to our passengers to keep learning how to do it better,” he said at a news conference shortly after his last flight landed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Sullenberger officially retired at a private ceremony in Charlotte with fellow pilots and other US Airways employees.
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The 59-year-old Sullenberger joined US Airways’ predecessor airline in 1980.
His final flight, number 1167 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to his base at Charlotte (N.C.) Douglas International Airport took just under two hours. It arrived at 2:48 p.m. EST – 17 minutes ahead of schedule.
Sullenberger flew on Wednesday with his co-pilot during the Hudson landing, First Officer Jeff Skiles.
As they walked off the plane, people in the airport recognized the pilots and applauded.
Sullenberger said he plans to spend more time with his family in retirement and will write another book. He will also continue to talk to lawmakers about raising minimum qualifications for pilots and work to lower the maximum number of hours pilots are able to work in a single day.
He said it’s more difficult to be a pilot today than 30 years ago.
“There is so much pressure to hire people with less experience. Their salaries are so low that people with greater experience will not take those jobs. We have some carriers that have hired some pilots with only a few hundred hours of experience. … There’s simply no substitute for experience in terms of aviation safety,” Sullenberger said.
Flight attendant Doreen Welsh, 59, who was on Flight 1549 when it landed in the Hudson, also officially retired Wednesday. Welsh, 59, joined US Airways’ predecessor airline in 1970 – when she was 19 years old.
All 150 passengers survived the emergency river landing in January 2009 when a flock of Canada geese was sucked into the plane’s engines minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia, headed for Charlotte, N.C.
“Each generation of pilots hopes that they will leave their profession better off than they found it,” Sullenberger said. “In spite of the best efforts of thousands of my colleagues, that is not the case today.”
He said about a half dozen of the passengers on Flight 1549 joined him on his last flight.
One of the survivors of the Hudson River landing, Mary Berkwitz, said by phone from her Stallings, N.C., office that she was disappointed to hear Sullenberger was retiring.
“Every time I get on a plane, I feel like, Oh God, I hope it’s Sully at the pilot’s seat. Now I know it’s not going to be. In a way it’s sad,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Since that famous flight last year, Sullenberger has testified before Congress regarding pilot safety, given speeches about education and written a book, “Highest Duty.”
He became a member of US Airways’ flight operations safety management team last September.
A US Airways pilot with as much experience as Sullenberger makes about $130,000 to $150,000 a year. Sullenberger told Congress last year that his pay was cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension was terminated and replaced with a promise “worth pennies on the dollar” from the federally created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies – including two at US Airways – after Sept. 11 and were compounded by the recession.
Sullenberger said the crash in the Hudson changed his life.
“Quite frankly, prior to Jan. 15, 2009, I was planning to work for the rest of my life. And I’m still not retiring from work. I’m retiring from the airline so I can use my time on other issues of great importance of this moment,” he said.
While Sullenberger walked away from the emergency landing unscathed, flight attendant Welsh was seriously injured in the crash and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She says she is still afraid of the water.
Her ongoing unease while flying since the crash led her to leave the only job she has ever had.
“I grew up out there,” Welsh said.
Welsh plans to go on the speakers’ circuit to talk about her experiences in the crash.
“I feel grateful for still being alive,” she said. The opportunities of the last year “have been wonderful, but it was a high price to pay. And if I could go back, I would have rather just been flying and doing my job and not having gone through that, because I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
Bomkamp reported from New York. Associated Press writer Samantha Gross in New York contributed to this report.