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Hero 'Sully' Rides Off Into Sunset

Capt. Sully Sullenberger and flight attendant Doreen Welsh of the 'Miracle on the Hudson' Flight 1549 announce their retirements.
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) -- Hero pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger retired from

US Airways


on Wednesday, saying he wants to spend more time advocating for aviation safety and pursuing opportunities resulting from the

"Miracle on the Hudson."

Sullenberger retired 14 months after the January 2009 incident, where he safely landed an A320 on the Hudson River off Manhattan, and just six months after moving into a job in Phoenix as a member of US Airways' flight operations safety management team. That job enabled him to severely limit commutes from his home in California to Charlotte, where he was based, and to focus on safety.

"The pace hasn't slowed as much as we expected, and there are so many other obligations and demands on my time and opportunities, quite frankly, that are of a limited time nature," said Sullenberger, who plans to give speeches and also write a second book. On Tuesday, he was in the bookstore at the Charlotte airport, signing copies of his first book, "Highest Duty."

US Airways had planned a ceremony to commemorate the retirement, but those plans were scuttled. Instead, Sullenberger met briefly with reporters and joined fellow pilots in the airport crew room. "He said 'I don't want the hoopla, I want to go out like every other pilot," said US Airline Pilots Association spokesman James Ray.

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Ray said Sullenberger will speak Wednesday to a medical group in Atlanta, on the subject of bringing the best parts of airline safety culture to the medical profession. "He will speak about resource management techniques -- tracking errors, having safety checklists and getting others to speak up rather than just the head surgeon," Ray said. "In this industry, it used to be the captain was God and the first officer would not speak up, but that has changed."

On safety matters, Ray and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, who flew with him on Wednesday as well as on Flight 1549, spoke repeatedly of the stark contrasts between their successful landing, after geese flew into both of the airplane's engines, and the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo on Feb. 12, 2009. The crash, which killed 50 people, was attributed to pilot error that reflected crew fatigue, limited experience and inadequate training requirements.

"They were very inexperienced pilots," said Skiles, who wore a red ribbon to commemorate Flight 3407 passengers. "Everybody has the right and the expectation to have very experienced pilots in the cockpit. Unfortunately, that is not guaranteed and is not true in many cases today."

Sullenberger said that Flight 3407 symbolizes today's problems in commercial aviation, which has "become extraordinarily competitive and cost sensitive." He said low-cost regional airlines, like the operator of Flight 3407, "compete to be the lowest bidders (and) face pressure to hire people with less experience," while busier flying days enhance the possibility of crew fatigue. "We're in the business of saving lives, not saving money," he said.

US Airways pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger speaks to reporters at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

Sullenberger, 59, joined predecessor


in 1980. His last flight was from Fort Lauderdale to Charlotte. His first, he recalled Wednesday, was from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. 1549 Flight attendant Doreen Welsh, 59, who joined predecessor Allegheny Airlines in 1980, also recently retired.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.