"Miracle on the Hudson" testimony

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">A worker looks into the damaged right engine of the US Airways Airbus A320 that made an emergency landing Thursday in the Hudson River as the plane sits on a barge after being lifted out of the river in New York, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. &#40;AP Photo&#47;Kathy Willens&#41;  </span></div>
June 9, 2009 11:22:30 AM PDT
The pilot of the US Airways plane that ditched into the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of Canada geese told safety officials Tuesday that warnings from air traffic controllers to pilots of birds in the vicinity of airports have little value. "In my experience the warnings we get are general in nature and not specific and therefore have limited usefulness,"Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the captain of Flight 1549, told the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board is holding three days of hearings into safety issues arising from its investigation of the Jan. 15 accident, including efforts to prevent bird strikes and the ability of aircraft engines to withstand collisions with large birds.

Other issues include whether the Federal Aviation Administration's aircraft certification standards are adequate to protect passengers in event of a forced water landing. In the case of Flight 1549, the Airbus A320 suffered a rupture near the tailcone that sent water gushing into the cabin. Passenger Billy Campbell, a Woodland Hills, Calif., businessman who was in a window seat in the second-to-last row, told the board water came gushing in his window when the plane hit river. Someone also cracked open a rear door.

"My concern was that the plane was going to sink and we were going to be stuck in the back," Campbell said.

A cockpit voice recorder transcript released by the board showed Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles were admiring the view of the Hudson River less than minute before their plane struck the geese and lost thrust in both engines.

"What a view of the Hudson today," Sullenberger remarked.

"Yeah," Skiles responded.

Thirty-three seconds later Sullenberger said, "birds," Skiles said, "whoa," and there is the sound of thumping.

Campbell said the engine he could see out his window after the bird strike was a "bonfire."

Sullenberger told the board that he didn't attempt to return to New York's LaGuardia Airport because he thought, "I cannot afford to be wrong."

"I had to make sure I could make it before I chose that option," Sullenberger said.

Instead, he glided the plane into the river. All 155 aboard survived.

Board member Robert Sumwalt, a former US Airways pilot who flew A320s, he "never really worried about birds bringing my airplane down."

"Now this has caused a whole new focus on this," Sumwalt said in an interview.

In recent decades, many bird populations - including Canada geese - have rebounded thanks partly to environmental regulations. Air travel has also soared since deregulation in the late 1970s encouraged greater competition and lower fares.

With more planes and more birds in the sky, "we have a situation here - almost a numbers game - where eventually something is going to happen," said Michael Begier, national coordinator of the Agriculture Department's airport wildlife hazards program. "We're very fortunate that Flight 1549 was not a catastrophe. It is a warning shot."

The Federal Aviation Administration is testing bird-detecting radar that may help airports manage nearby bird populations. Some experts have also suggested aircraft engines should be designed to withstand bigger birds. Newer engines on commercial airliners have to withstand an 8-pound bird, but Canada geese can weigh twice that.

"You could probably build an aircraft engine that could withstand a 20-pound bird with today's technology, but that engine will never fly" because it will be too heavy, Sumwalt said. "We can't do a whole lot more to beef up the aircraft to withstand birds."

Disrupting bird habitats close to airports would probably not have helped Flight 1549. An analysis of remains of Canada geese in the plane's engines showed that they were migratory - perhaps from Labrador, Canada - not part of the Canada geese population that lives year-round in the New York area, according to the National Zoo's Migratory Bird Center. Moreover, the plane-geese collision occurred several miles from the airport.

Another concern is whether the FAA and airlines need to revise emergency procedures for a double engine failure. Those procedures for pilots usually involve a checklist of many steps, and there are different checklists depending upon the problem. If the plane is flying at a high altitude - airliners typically cruise above 20,000 feet - pilots may have time to identify and correct the problem.

At a low altitude that's more difficult. Flight 1549's first officer, Jeffrey Skiles, has said he only made it part of the way through a checklist for restarting the engines before the forced landing.

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