Heroes of the Hudson Say Airlines Subordinating Safety

 - February 25, 2009, 4:53 AM

The US Airways “heroes of the Hudson” pilots used a House aviation subcommittee hearing Tuesday as a bully pulpit to characterize cost-cutting in the U.S. airline industry as both a threat to passenger safety and to the recruitment and retention of career aviators.

“I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest,” said Capt. Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot-in-command of the Airbus A320 that successfully ditched in New York’s Hudson River on January 15.

Sullenberger specifically complained of the precipitous drop in pilot pay since the wave of bankruptcies that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He testified that his salary had fallen by 40 percent over the past few years and that a comparatively minuscule retirement guarantee by the government-run Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. had replaced his pension plan.

“Lives were saved due to the combination of a very experienced, well trained crew: first officer Jeff Skiles and flight attendants Donna Dent, Doreen Walsh and Sheila Dail, all of whom acted in a remarkable display of teamwork, along with expert air traffic controllers, the orderly cooperation of our cool-headed passengers and the quick and determined actions of the professional and volunteer first responders in New York City,” he said. All 155 people on board were rescued from the frigid water.

“There is no question that the skill, experience and training of this crew saved lives,” said House aviation subcommittee chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.). “I have been very concerned about the effect of retirements on our air traffic controller workforce as well, and this is a topic that is a major part of our legislation to reauthorize the FAA.”