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‘Miracle on the Hudson’ pilot coming to Buffalo

WASHINGTON – Amid rising concern that the new Republican Congress might cut back on the aviation safety improvements enacted after the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said he knew exactly who to call.

And as a result, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger – the pilot who steered his crippled USAirways jet to a safe water landing dubbed “the Miracle on the Hudson” six years ago – will travel to Western New York next week to endorse the work of the Families of Continental Flight 3407 and to insist that Congress not tamper with it.

“He was happy to do it,” said Schumer, D-N.Y., who called Sullenberger to suggest that he visit Buffalo.

Sullenberger will appear at an event at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Flight 3407 Memorial on Long Street in Clarence, where the plane crashed because of pilot error on Feb. 12, 2009, claiming 50 lives.

Schumer, one of the key figures in helping the Flight 3407 families pass wide-ranging aviation safety legislation, will be there, too.

“There are obviously going to be attempts to undo some of what we passed” as Congress draws up must-pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, said Schumer, who came to know Sullenberger during the original battle to pass the aviation safety bill. “We succeeded in passing the legislation, but the fight can never end. This will send a signal to everyone: Don’t mess with us. Don’t tread on me.”

The 2010 aviation safety legislation led to strict new rules on pilot training, experience and rest, and many of those measures have been implemented over objections from the airlines. In particular, the airlines have alleged that the requirement that all commercial co-pilots have 1,500 hours of flight experience has led to a pilot shortage.

Defending those improvements will be a pilot who knows the value of experience and training.

About a month before the Flight 3407 crash, Sullenberger piloted USAirways Flight 1549 to a safe landing in the Hudson River in New York despite a bird strike that disabled the aircraft. All 155 people on board survived.

Since then, Sullenberger has written two books and traveled the world, speaking about his experience and aviation safety. He has spoken up on behalf of the Flight 3407 families’ safety efforts in the past, but this is the first time he has traveled to Buffalo for an event with them.

“Six years ago, we had both a triumph and a tragedy for aviation safety in this country,” said Karen Eckert, one of the leading members of the Flight 3407 families group. “Sully Sullenberger represents everything that’s right about the aviation industry: safety, being prepared, dedication and leadership. He is the ultimate spokesman to endorse the safety improvements that the families fought for and, with the aid of Sen. Schumer and Congress, were able to pass.”

Later next week, about 30 members of the families group plan to travel to Washington to meet with key members of the new Congress to press for maintaining the safety improvements they won five years ago.