Cover Story: Capt. Sully - hanging up his wings

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV)- The Hero on the Hudson flew his last US Airways flight Wednesday.  Captain Sully Sullenberger is retiring after 30 years as a professional pilot.  It's a bittersweet exit for a man who planned to fly until he reached mandatory retirement age.

Six months ago, after the Miracle flight on the Hudson, Sully said he couldn't wait to get back in the cockpit.  Why did he step down?

It comes as a bit of a surprise indeed but he feels he's been chosen to do good for the industry he loves so much.  And he believes he can do more good here on the ground instead of in the air.

Since the Miracle on the Hudson 14 months ago it's been a whirlwind tour for Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

A shout out from the President at the State of the Union speech.

From Charlotte's city leaders-- a commemorative brick from the soon to be completed NASCAR Hall of Fame.

And a best-selling book.. a nationwide book tour.

Climbing back into the cockpit last October.. Sullenburger said he couldn't wait to get back to flying.

But six months later he's hanging up his wings.

"The pace hasn't slowed as much as we expected," he said.  "So many other obligations, demands, opportunities quite frankly that are of a limited time nature. It's important I pursue those now."

Flight 1549's successful ditching highlighted the importance of pilot experience and training.

Sullenburger and first officer Jeff Skiles had years of flying time under their belts but that's not always the case everywhere.

One month after Sullly's flight in February 2009 a Continental Express regional jet crashed in Buffalo, New York.. killing all on 49 board.

In that crash Federal investigators blamed pilot inexperience and pilot fatigue.

Now in Washington, Congress is considering raising the minimum standards for first-officers and the FAA is looking at rules to address fatigue.

With his first officer next to him, Sullenburger said those are two issues he wants to be involved in retirement.

He said, "We were chosen by circumstance to be the face of this event and spokespersons for the industry. In that role I'll be most effective."

Sullenburger chose to make his final flight as a commercial pilot into Charlotte Airport Wednesday, where he's been based for the last 5 years.

Flying Wednesday for only the third time Jeff Skiles, the man who sat to his right in the cockpit on the day of January 15, 2009.

Speaking to reporters outside the terminal building Sully said in 3 decades of flying today almost nothing could compare to Wednesday.  "In 30 years of flying I don't think I've received better more efficient friendly service from Air Traffic Controllers than I did today.. it was definitely noticed.. the word must have been passed."

US Airways is offering early retirement to some pilots as a cost-cutting move, Sully included.

Sully said he's not retiring-- just stepping down from flying.  He'll be doing more public speaking, taking on a safety advocacy role on Capitol Hill and he has commitments to write another book.

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