The safe emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City almost two years ago thrust pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger into the spotlight. His piloting skills saved the lives of all passengers and crewmembers on board and earned him the title "Hero of the Hudson." Now retired, Captain Sullenberger is using the attention to promote aviation to young people around the world.
On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger faced one of the most perilous situations a pilot can confront.
Moments after takeoff, the Airbus A320 struck a flock of birds and both engines failed.
In the moments that followed, Sullenberger made a decision on where, and how, to land the aircraft. "We only had 208 seconds from the time we hit the birds to the time we landed," he recalls.
Sullenberger decided to ditch the plane in the Hudson River. It worked. His quick thinking saved the lives of everyone on board. "For everyone on the airplane and our families, that event changed our lives instantly, completely, and if not for ever, for a very long time," he said.
After the landing, Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles were thrust into the spotlight.
Since then, they have received numerous awards.
In November, Sullenberger returned to his alma mater, Purdue University in Indiana.
There, another Purdue graduate, former Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, presented Sullenberger with the Neil Armstrong Medal of Excellence.
In March, "Sully" retired as from US Airways. But his heroism has kept him in the spotlight.
"This notoriety, this attention, has given me a greater voice to have a chance to make a difference about things I've cared about for many years," Sullenberger said. "Aviation safety. The state of the airline piloting profession. And of course, the future of aviation in this country."
Now Sullenberger is heading up the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) Young Eagles program. "Young Eagles is a program of volunteers who give young people who are interested in aviation a first flight," he says, "It's a chance to ignite their passion, a chance to provide for the future of aviation."
His involvement comes at a time of turmoil in the aviation industry.
Salaries for pilots and crews are down as a result of competition from low cost carriers.
Sullenberger says the lack of good jobs and job security has contributed to decreased interest in aviation as a career. "The number of student pilot starts, that is the number of people who begin to learn to fly, has decreased in the last number of years substantially. What we're trying to do is arrest that descent and renew people's interest in aviation as a possibility for recreation or for a profession," he said.
Sullenberger hopes the example he and the crew set that cold day on the Hudson River will fuel interest in aviation and ensure that competent, and experienced crews, will get passengers to their destinations for many years to come.