Colleagues praise pilot, say maturity counts

January 16, 2009 6:27:31 PM PST
The remarkable landing by 57-year-old Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger" is being cheered by older airline pilots. Until two years ago, the United States required them to retire at 60. ABC7 spoke with two of Sully's colleagues about that issue.

The passengers aboard US Airways flight 1549 consider Sully a hero for saving their lives. But he's also a hero to fellow captains like Paul Rodgers for showing that maturity and experience count.

"Experience, though, cannot be replaced. You can't look at a computer or play a video game and learn how to do this. It has to be real life experience, and that takes years," said Rodgers.

Rodgers lobbied hard to raise the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 like other countries. The law was changed, but not in time to extend his career.

But the miracle on the Hudson, he says, shows that there is no substitute for senior captains to make split-second decisions. Rodgers himself has done the same LaGuardia Airport departure at least a thousand times when he flew for US Airways.

"When you only have 30 seconds, 45 seconds to make up your mind, one side of the river is New York City, Manhattan, with all those people, all those high-rise buildings... on the other side is New Jersey where you've got a lot more people also. There was an airport there at Teeterboro, but Teeterboro is not one that I would want to go into without any preparation at all. And then Newark was about 12 miles further to the south. But without any power, you just have is a 170,000-pound glider," said Rodgers.

Veteran airline Captain Dick Deeds shares Rodgers' admiration for Sully. He says passengers should pay more attention to who is in the left seat in the cockpit.

"I've heard that from many of my passengers that they've said we're glad to see somebody with a little gray hair up there. Calmness, that's the big thing with experience, you have a calmness about it," said Deeds.

One final thought about Sully from his colleagues.

"When he was trained by the United States Air Force, there was $1.2 million spent on average on the training, so the taxpayers got their money's worth with Sullenberger," said Rodgers.