Pilot was a 'hero,' but are more coming along for airlines to hire?
There are fewer military pilots to draw from, plus economic difficulties in the industry.
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"He did a fantastic job and made all the right choices. He's a really instinctive, well-trained pilot," says Richard Golaszewski, executive vice president of GRA Inc., aviation consultants in Jenkintown, Pa. "But there were a lot of things that happened long before that: Design rules that say how long a plane has to float, training of the flight attendants and pilots. Ditching is something they train for."Skip to next paragraph
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Mixed with all of the accolades for Capt. Sullenberger, there's also some concern that the past 8 years of economic turmoil at the airlines during which pilot pay and benefits have been slashed will make it more difficult to attract people of Sullenberger's abilities.
"We still have some exceptionally trained and qualified crews," says a veteran pilot for a major airline who's not authorized to speak with the press. "But the fear is that in the future, because of the loss of quality of life and pay and turmoil that you're not going to attract people of that same caliber. For now at least we're enjoying the experience of people who chose it as a profession when it was still a highly coveted job."
Analysts note there has also been long-term trend of fewer military-trained pilots entering the commercial aviation world. Some contend that's because the job is now less attractive and they worry that this has led to a diminution in the skill and type of training pilots get. But others strongly disagree and say it's just a question of numbers. After the Vietnam War there were simply fewer military pilots being trained, and so fewer people like Capt. Sullenberger were joining the major airlines.
"There's absolutely no evidence I know of to suggest that the people coming from the civilian ranks aren't as qualified as military pilots," says Clint Oster, an aviation economist at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Prof. Oster and other analysts believe aviation still attracts people of high caliber, despite the changes in the job's pay. But there's also some concern about the future.
"There's no question that people feel less attracted to the aviation business because it's not the romantic, highly paid profession that it once was," says Mr. Voss. "But there's still a strong emotional attachment to it and we still see a lot of very positive young people wanting to go into it."
But Voss worries that when the economy recovers and the airlines again become profitable the nation will be facing a shortage of qualified pilots like Capt. Sullenberger.
"When we come out of this economic slow period there's going to be a sudden demand for pilots, and we'll be tested on our ability to put really talented people in these airplanes in sufficient numbers," he says.