CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has flown his final flight.
The pilot who landed a US Airways plane safely on the Hudson River last January said Wednesday he is retiring after 30 years and plans to spend some of his time pressing for more flight safety.
“My message going forward is that I want to remind everyone in the aviation industry – especially those who manage aviation companies and those who regulate aviation – that we owe it to our passengers to keep learning how to do it better,” he said at a news conference shortly after his last flight landed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Sullenberger officially retired at a private ceremony in Charlotte with fellow pilots and other US Airways employees. The 59-year-old Sullenberger joined US Airways’ predecessor airline in 1980.
His final flight, number 1167 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to his base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport took just under two hours. It arrived at 2:48 p.m. EST – 17 minutes ahead of schedule.
Sullenberger flew on Wednesday with his co-pilot during the Hudson landing, First Officer Jeff Skiles. As they walked off the plane, people in the airport recognized the pilots and applauded.
Sullenberger said he plans to spend more time with his family in retirement and will write another book. He will also continue to talk to lawmakers about raising minimum qualifications for pilots and work to lower the maximum number of hours pilots are able to work in a single day.
Flight attendant Doreen Welsh, 59, who was on Flight 1549 when it landed in the Hudson, also officially retired Wednesday.
All 150 passengers survived the emergency river landing in January 2009 when a flock of Canada geese was sucked into the plane’s engines minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia, headed for Charlotte, N.C.
Sullenberger said about a half dozen of the passengers on Flight 1549 joined him on his last flight.
One of the survivors of the Hudson River landing, Mary Berkwitz, said by phone from her Stallings, N.C., office that she was disappointed to hear Sullenberger was retiring.
“Every time I get on a plane, I feel like, ‘Oh God, I hope it’s Sully at the pilot’s seat.’ Now I know it’s not going to be. In a way it’s sad,” she said in an interview with the Associated Press.