Page last updated at 20:15 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Hudson pilot urges safety funding

Hudson pilot Chesley Sullenberger: 'I knew immediately the situation was dire'

The pilot of a plane that ditched into the Hudson River in New York has called on US airlines to invest more in recruiting and training pilots.

Capt Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger told Congress his pay had been cut by 40% in recent years, and the industry might not attract the "best and brightest".

"The single most important piece of safety equipment is an experienced, well-trained pilot," he said.

He was hailed as a hero after January's landing, which all on board survived.

At the hearing, an air traffic controller recalled the captain telling him he would land in the river, and thinking this was a "death sentence".

Controller Patrick Harten said it felt like hours before he heard of the plane's "heroic landing".

'Economic tsunami'

Earlier, Capt Sullenberger told the House aviation subcommittee that he was "deeply troubled" about the future of the airline industry.

He said pay cuts had placed "pilots and their families in an untenable financial situation", and that this was deterring potential recruits.

Companies should refocus on the recruitment and retention of well-trained pilots, and this should be "at least equal to their financial bottom lines", he said.

Capt Sullenberger said the airline industry had been facing severe economic challenges for the last eight years.

"We've been hit by an economic tsunami: September 11th, bankruptcies, fluctuating fuel prices, mergers, loss of pensions and revolving door management teams," he said.

He added that his decision to stay in the airline industry had come at "a great financial cost to me and my family", with his pay cut and pension downgraded.


Security camera footage of the Hudson River plane

The BBC's Adam Brookes in Washington says that amid all the adulation, it was a sobering moment.

The committee was sitting to examine what lessons could be learned from the 15 January accident.

Capt Sullenberger urged "collective solutions" involving management a labour to ensure that pilots are sufficiently valued and to avoid "negative consequences to the flying public and to our country".

"The current experience and skills of our country's professional airline pilots come from investments made years ago," he said.

"We must not let the economic and financial pressures detract from a focus on constantly improving our safety measures and engaging in ongoing and comprehensive training."

Investigators have confirmed that Canada geese collided with both of the engines of Flight 1549 shortly before it ditched, causing them to lose power.

"At the point of impact we heard thumps of the birds striking the aircraft," Capt Sullenberger told the Congress committee on Tuesday.

"I immediately began to feel vibrations - abnormal, rough vibrations coming from both engines," he said.

"And I quickly began to smell in the cabin circulated air, what I've experienced before, and that's a burned bird smell going through the engines."

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