This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.View all copies of this ISBN edition:
To what extent is the "Miracle on the Hudson" the result of extraordinary---but not widely known---advances in aviation and computer technology over the past twenty years? Noted journalist William Langewiesche takes listeners on a strange and unexpected journey into the fascinating world of advanced aviation.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
William Langewiesche is the author of six previous books: Cutting for Sign, Sahara Unveiled, Inside the Sky, American Ground (North Point Press, 2002), The Outlaw Sea (North Point Press, 2004), and, most recently, The Atomic Bazaar (FSG, 2007). He is the international editor for Vanity Fair.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
January 15, 3:25 p.m.
Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles met for the first time late in the afternoon of Monday, January 12, at the US Airways hub in Charlotte, North Carolina. Each had arrived from home, respectively in California and Wisconsin, by hitching rides on available flights. The two were paired for a four-day trip in various airplanes that they would swap with other crews as they proceeded, in order to keep the airplanes in nearly constant motion, for revenue generation and efficiency. Crews cannot be treated the same way. This was to be Sullenberger’s first run in nearly two weeks, and he was well rested. Over the previous year, he had logged approximately 770 hours of flight time, an average of 16 hours a week, not counting the additional duty time on the ground, or the frequent transcontinental commutes—necessary because he chose to live so far from his assigned base. Skiles had flown at about the same leisurely pace, though also commuting long-distance to work. He, too, was well rested. However poorly paid flying for the airlines has become, it allows for a lot of relaxation, or at least time spent at home. Indeed, it would be a particularly gentle profession, as it was before, were it not for the insecurity and turmoil that have followed the industry’s deregulation.
Among airlines that have survived, the turmoil has been nowhere worse than at US Airways. The company went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 2002, and was able to hang on only because of government loan guarantees—part of the huge package of bailouts awarded to the airlines in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, when air travel declined and financial mayhem ensued. US Airways then embarked on a campaign to slash costs by reducing its fleet, furloughing pilots, cutting salaries, eliminating pensions, and doing away with free meals on its flights. The mood was reflected at the time in a somehow desperate slogan: “Get On Board.” Please, goddamnit. The airline emerged from bankruptcy in 2003, only to be forced back into Chapter 11 a year later, in September 2004, as a result of high fuel prices and deadlocked negotiations with the pilots’ union. Afterward, employees had to make concessions again, and they were bitter about it.
US Airways cut its labor costs by $1 billion following the second bankruptcy, and brought its overhead closer to that of pareddown airlines like Southwest. Sullenberger later referred to the effect in his congressional testimony, when he spoke out against “airline management teams who have used airline employees as an ATM.” The airline executives Sullenberger had in mind were surely his own. In fairness, their hands had been tied by bankers imposing conditions for loans. The bankers in turn were eyeing the realities of a competitive market that is extremely sensitive to pricing, and in which customers, informed by the Internet, aggressively seek the best deals around. Morale at US Airways sank so low that during a Christmas snowstorm in 2004, angry flight attendants and ground personnel called in sick, causing the cancellation of several hundred flights, snarling traffic nationwide, and resulting in the stranding of many thousands of passengers. The airline blamed the weather. The government blamed mismanagement. US Airways seemed truly to be dying. The airline business in the United States does not exist on the rational calculation of gain so much as on inertia and fascination. For whatever reason, US Airways once again was saved. It happened in 2005, in the nick of time, when the Phoenix-based America West Airlines took over, assuming US Airways’s name, assets, and debt and allowing it to emerge once again from bankruptcy. America West had its own history of troubles, having gone through bankruptcy in the 1990s, and requiring a government loan of $380 million in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. This was an airline so close to the brink that it resorted to selling tray table advertising on its flights, and thought of this as an important innovation. It was nonetheless considered to be well run, and was able to bring big investors to the deal, including Airbus in Europe. The US Airways management team was fired, the America West name disappeared, and the now-former America West managers took over, moving the US Airways headquarters to their longtime Arizona base.
On January 12, 2009, when Sullenberger and Skiles met in Charlotte for their assigned four-day trip, the last of America West had recently disappeared from public view beneath the US Airways veneer. Whether for nostalgia or as a reminder of what had really happened and who was really in charge, the new radio call sign for all US Airways flights was the old “Cactus” of America West. Sullenberger did not approve, and he came up with a reason why. He said that during operations overseas—in Asia, Europe, and Latin America—foreign crews hearing “Cactus” on air traffic control frequencies might not correlate it to the US Airways paint scheme on the airplanes in sight, and so safety might be compromised. More likely, he simply resented the name.
Behind the façade of a unified airline, a war had broken out between the 3,400 original US Airways pilots and the 1,800 pilots of the former America West. These groups were known respectively as East and West. Their fight was about how to integrate the ranks and endorse a single unified contract with the company. Pilots in the East group (such as Sullenberger and Skiles) insisted that seniority be based purely on the date of hire, while pilots in the West group (who typically were newer to the profession) insisted that they had not bailed out US Airways only to drop to the bottom of the scale. It was a significant fight, because the ranking of pilots governs the terms of their jobs, including pay, schedule, routes, and the airplanes they fly. In the fracas, the East pilots had forced the entire lot to pull out of the once-powerful national union, which seemed to have sided with the America West crowd, and had formed a company-specific bargaining unit they called the US Airline Pilots Association. (This is the union that handled Sullenberger after the crash and was represented as an official party at the NTSB hearings in Washington.) The West pilots had reacted by forming another group, appropriately named the America West Airlines Pilots Protective Alliance. For three years now, these two groups were going at each other in court, working under separate contracts, and refusing to integrate in the cockpits. It was a shame, and they were all weaker for it. They were working in a bare-bones industry, and fighting over scraps.
You dealt with it as you could. You got by in life. Skiles had gone into the house-building business presumably because he had some knowledge in that area. On the website for the company he formed, he wrote, “Skiles Builders LLC is committed to building affordable, elegant homes. Our personal involvement and pride of workmanship ensure a superior product. Our homes are designed and constructed with both classic design and practical usability in mind. The highest quality products, skilled craftsmanship and exceptional detailing produce a home with a character and personality uniquely your own. From vision to reality we make your dreams happen.”
As for Sullenberger, he had hung out a shingle as a safety consultant and had founded his own company, Safety Reliability Methods, Inc., behind a website in which the “About Us” section makes it clear that the “us” is him alone. At the start of a two-page résumé, he describes himself as follows:
BOTTOM-LINE DRIVEN MANAGER SUPPORTED BY PROGRESSIVELY RESPONSIBLE EXPERIENCE ACROSS 40+ YEARS IN THE AVIATION INDUSTRY. POSSESS IN-DEPTH UNDERSTANDING OF AVIATION OPERATIONS ACQUIRED THROUGH REAL-WORLD FLIGHT EXPERIENCE, PROFESSIONAL TRAINING AND LEADERSHIP ROLES WITH ONE OF THE WORLD’S LEADING AIRLINES. HISTORY OF ACHIEVEMENT IN SAFETY, INNOVATION, CREW TRAINING, OPERATIONAL IMPROVEMENT, COST SAVINGS, PRODUCTIVITY IMPROVEMENT AND CUSTOMER SERVICE. COMBINE STRONG INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE AND BUSINESS LEADERSHIP SKILLS TO CONSISTENTLY MANAGE COMPLEX SCHEDULING, LEAD HIGH-PERFORMANCE, MOTIVATED TEAMS AND IMPLEMENT EFFICIENT PROCESSES THAT ENSURE SMOOTH OPERATIONS AND QUALITY CUSTOMER SERVICE. STRONG COMMUNICATOR, EFFECTIVE NEGOTIATOR AND MOTIVATIONAL TEAM BUILDER; ABLE TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE NEEDS AND MERGE DISPARATE TEAMS IN THE SUPPORT OF MARKET OBJECTIVES. RESPECTED FOR WIDE RANGE OF INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE, SOLID SENSE OF INTEGRITY AND DEMONSTRATED PASSION FOR INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE AS EVIDENCED BY LIFELONG CAREER OF FLYING.
In other words, he was an airline pilot. His need to compensate for the loss of income was painfully evident in the enterprise. There was something endearing in the very rigidity of the language, and in a large photograph on the website that showed him smiling in his airline pilot uniform, with captain’s stripes on the sleeves. He was obviously a decent man. He was straining to broaden out. He had landed an affiliation as a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management—a construct that seems to have been designed for the purpose of hunting grants. Maybe the affiliation would help.
Sullenberger and Skiles certainly had time for these secondary pursuits, however unexpected in their lives. But on the afternoon of January 12, when they joined up in Charlotte, North Carolina, they set their financial concerns aside to do their job. Both men were feeling cheerful. They met the three flight attendants, Donna Dent, Sheila Dail, and Doreen Welsh. Donna Dent was the lead. She was a short-haired woman, age fifty-one, who had joined the airline in 1982 and had been flying with it for twenty-six years. Even more experienced was Sheila Dail, who at the age of fifty-seven still retained the looks once required for the job. She had joined the airline in...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Tantor Media, 2009. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1400145465