22 September 2009
Skiles, Sullenberger team up to save plane
The ultimate in teamwork and following policy and procedures really comes to light when you listen to Jeff Skiles talk about US Airways Flight 1459.
Skiles, the first officer of the ill-fated flight that took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on 15 January that hit a flock of Canadian Geese, talked during Monday’s keynote address at the Invensys North America Client Conference about the key components of teamwork, training, and following policies and procedures.
“These basic building blocks of training, teamwork, and procedures we use in the cockpit are critical for any profession where human beings interact,” Skiles said.
The pilots and flight attendants on a team are a team based on training over the years.
“We know exactly what we are responsible for, and can rely upon each other,” he said.
The following is an excerpted timeline in the take off of Flight 1549:
“We started our day that day in Pittsburgh, went to Charlotte, and then flew to New York. There was a weather delay as we taxied out to the runway. This was my first trip on an Airbus.
“It was a cold day in New York. I set the controls for the takeoff. We were late, and the passengers were worried about making their connections. It was the last day of our leg and was the last flight of our day. I had just met [Chesley Sullenberger] Sully three days before at the beginning of our leg. In our business, it is our training and our strict adherence to procedure that allow us to act as a team from the very first leg we fly together.
“I was flying this leg. The control tower cleared us for take off. We started moving. We were working as a team, and we know exactly what we are responsible for and what we can depend on the other pilot for.
“At 400 feet, I rolled the plane to the left. At 3,000 feet in the air, I pitched the airplane over to accelerate to 250 knots, our speed limit below 10,000 feet. At this moment, I see a line of geese right in front of the nose. They are too close to maneuver around, but I felt this great sense of relief that I saw we flew over the top of them, which we did in the cockpit. But we didn’t clear them enough, as it sounded like hail hitting the airplane and both engines immediately rolled back to idle.
“We are not in good shape, and I am pushing the nose over the keep the plane flying. Sully immediately took over the airplane.
“We are gliding. We are trading air speed for altitude to keep the plane from stalling. The plane is losing about 1,000 feet per minute, but we are only at 3,000 feet to start with. Sully and I tried to assess what we have got here.
“I reset the computers speed information, making sure we had electric and hydraulic power and test to restart the engines. Our options were to either go back to LaGuardia, or Teterboro, or the Hudson River. Our only real option was the Hudson River. What I remember most as we descended into the river was the noise. We have a large selection of bells, horns, automated voices that warn us of various aircraft system failures. It seemed like every alert was going off at once. Sully had the presence of mind to pick up the PA and give the command to the flight attendants to brace for impact. That was the only knowledge they had of what was going to happen.
“After we landed in the water, one of the great things about our success was our passengers. They were professional passengers.”
Skiles said after they got back onshore and the politicians got on the scene, “(New York) Governor (David) Paterson coined the phrase the ‘Miracle on the Hudson.’ But was it really a miracle? What allowed the two of us to perform so well was our training, our teamwork, and our procedures.”
In short, Skiles said the crew, while not really knowing each other, knew just what to do.
“Because of training and procedures, we knew what to do when the birds flew into the engines,” he said. “Flight crews work more like a baseball team rather than a traditional top down management approach. Every person has a roll, a responsibility. That is why we can work together as a team from the first moment we sit down together—even if we have never met.”
“Other than hitting the birds, everything went our way—and they had to go our way,” Skiles said.