Friday, October 02, 2009

Now he tells us?

Yesterday our ol' pal Ches Sullenberger made his much-ballyhooed return to the cockpit, which is probably more of a publicity stunt than anything else, since (a) his equally ballyhooed book comes out next week and (b) he's not actually planning a return to full-time pilot's duties, having moved into the executive stratum at USAirways. Sully reacted to the occasion with his by-now-familiar aw-shucks modesty, but he also uttered a line I hadn't heard from him (though in fairness, he's apparently said it before, so I'm being a bit sly with my headline): "I was just doing my job." He said this, I hardly need tell you, with regard to his exploits on the day of the so-called Miracle on the Hudson this past January.

I tend to agree with you, Sully; I've pretty much been saying that all along. You were just doing your job, and probably doing it no better or worse than lots of other experienced pilots would've done it (though we have no way of knowing that for sure, of course). In which case...why the book deal, and why the motivational speeches, and why were you at Obama's swearing-in as well as his first speech to a joint session of Congress, and why were you at the Super Bowl, and why were you hangin' with Tony La Russa behind the batting cages at the All Star game, and....?

Just think: One more goose, perhaps, and there would've been no glossy new job in safety management for Sully.* Indeed, there would've been no Sully.

* I realize that he lost full power that day, so the number of geese would seem irrelevant. However, had the flock been larger, he might've lost power sooner, right? Anyway, I claim poetic license. you can cry fowl if you want to... ;)


Tyro said...

Just to play devil's advocate, maybe there's something to Sullenberger after all.

Sometimes having skill isn't enough, you need opportunities to demonstrate it. There may be many people with the cool nerves and skill that Sullenberger has but he's proved himself and others haven't and that's worth something. You may believe you've got The Right Stuf but until you put yourself to the test, you'll never know. It's not fair but it's life.

roger o'keefe said...

I see arguments both ways, but I'm more inclined to agree with you here, Steve. Our culture has taken a strange twist where people who make their life's work out of building a career or perfecting some enterprise never get the same coverage or rewards as accidental celebrities like Sullenberger. I bet there are hundreds if not thousands of pilots out there who had the same training and dedication who wonder why Sully gets all these kudos and financial riches due to a flock of geese, as you say.

Sarsabu said...

For those who believe everything is predetermined (which is something that makes plenty of sense imho) it was no big deal, it was always going to happen like that anyway. Only thing is we didn't know it was going to happen.

RevRon's Rants said...

Gotta second the motion made by our devil's advocate here, Steve. I've known and served with plenty of people who were trained in how to handle crises, yet who choked when they actually found themselves in such a situation. I have also been fortunate enough to observe others who kept their cool and, as a result, saved others' lives. In my book, these people deserve some degree of recognition over and above those who have never exhibited anything beyond the potential to act well.

Perhaps we're overdoing it where folks like Sully are concerned (duh!), but at the same time, perhaps the positive reinforcement they receive from their public accolades just might be a tipping factor to someone else, providing for them the impetus to step beyond the gravity of their immediate circumstances and do something that others would consider heroic. The honestly earned Purple Heart has been known to inspire soldiers to set aside the turmoil that might keep them from acting bravely. Just a thought...

sassy sasha said...

i am sooooo sicky of sully!!! enough! now if you were writing about jan & kate at least that would be somethign important ;-)

Anonymous said...

What does it matter what or when he tells you, when the sh*t hit the fan he delivered, not just doing his job but overdelivering to save all those lives.
I an amazed that this still galls you so much.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon et al: The only thing that galls me is that he's made a (second) career out of it (with the help of the media and the rest of us, of course, who fall at his feet in wonder). My understanding of being a pilot is that you're paid to handle situations like this; that's why you get the big bucks (that pilots used to get, anyway, pre-9/11). The rest of the time the blessed thing is on autopilot/instruments.

So to me, this is a little bit like, say, if we lionized firefighters every time they actually had to go out and fight fires...oh wait, I take that back, we already do that.

Stever Robbins said...

I guess I'm past the outrage part when it comes to market irrationality. If he has the chance to make money off his 15 minutes of fame, what's the big deal?

Cultural myths to the contrary, it's one of the very few ways someone can make the leap from middle-class salary to big bucks. Is it stupid? Yes. But it's the way our economy seems to function.

Here are my pet peeve mysteries:

Why do venture capitalists get huge chunks of equity in a company for writing a one-time check (providing money--a commodity) with no further obligation, while the founders bring their unique vision, skills, and ongoing labor for 4-10 years before their stock vests and they're allowed ownership in their own company? Because that's the way we've written it.

Why do MIT-trained engineers who are some of the brightest, most creative people in our economy get paid less than their newly-MBA-certified manager who can't manage their way out of a paper bag? Because that's the the result market salaries produce. (It's also why a significant percentage of MIT grads now go into management consulting or finance. They see where the rewards are.)

Why do upper managers get paid more than the people who do the work?

Why do we pay management consultants more than sewer workers? I don't know about you, but when my sewer went on the blink, I cared about getting it fixed. If my management consultant were to go on the blink, I might not care as much.


Steve Salerno said...

Stever, as usual you raise a number of trenchant issues. Since the blog seems to be high on devil's advocacy of late--and I'm sitting here in a post-dinner coma while waiting for a source to return my call--I'm going to "engage" on a few of your remarks.

I'm sure you realize that to a considerable degree, American society nowadays is pyramid of risk: who can handle it, who can assume it, how much we're willing to pay to alleviate it. Both health insurance and car insurance, for instance, are essentially the result of a poker game, a bargain we make with those who have substantially greater resources than we do. We can play the Game of Life with our own funds as long as the ante is low...but when the ante goes way, way up--when the question at hand is, "Could you afford to pay for cancer surgery out of pocket?"-- most of us have to say no. So we pay the insurer to assume that risk for us. Same thing with car insurance. We willingly (or grudgingly) take a modest "loss" every month (or every few months, depending on the premium set-up) in exchange for being protected against the colossal, all-at-once loss. Having dabbled in the venture capital game (at least from the standpoint of writing about it in some depth), I can tell you that it's much the same. You may begrudge the VC financier the forever-percentage he gets in exchange for his one-time "ante," but from his POV, he's assuming all of the front-end risk. The project may go bust--as many do--and ends up with nada.

As for the much-bemoaned management vs. labor tension, the managers would tell you that they "paid their dues," that--once again--they're assuming the big-picture risk if things go horribly awry. They'd also tell you that brainpower and decision-making skill are much more valuable assets than simple brawn or day-to-day productivity.

Anyway, I figured I'd throw that atcha before Roger does. ;)

Dimension Skipper said...

As usual in life and with regard to many subjects... I know nothing about it myself, but I just came across this very short item (i.e. the comments are more extensive) about a new book with what seems to be a slightly different perspective on Sully's feat:

Unseen hand that guided the 'miracle on the Hudson'
By Paul Marks of CultureLab

("A science news blog from NewScientist")

The book being mentioned there is:

Fly By Wire: The Geese, The Glide, The "Miracle" On The Hudson *
By William Langewiesche

Without being a flyer (pilot or passenger) I can't form an opinion with even a hint of a shred of authority to it, but I don't know that the technology automatically or significantly discounts Sully's actions that day. Perhaps by a small percentage, maybe, but if so, then how much?

Even if the fbw system greatly contributed to the splash landing going perfectly (as perfectly as such things CAN go anwyay), to me there's still the matter of actions by Sully and crew afterward. There's still a lot to be said for maintaining an authoritatively calm, cool demeanor worthy of a trained professional under extreme circumstances when the very lives of many strangers may be in the balance (not to mention one's colleagues and one's own life, of course) and specifically entrusted (or greatly so) to your abilities.

My main question at this point would probably be as to whether Sully himself has ever credited the role of the fbw system (or any other onboard engineered technological systems), either in person or in his own book. Even if he hasn't, I don't think that necessarily indicates he's deliberately trying to deceive anyone. (And I can't fault him for generally capitalizing on the event.)

* Just thought I'd mention that when I include a link to an Amazon page for such books, it is NOT that I am promoting or recommending the book, encouraging people to "run out" and buy it. It is almost 100% first and foremost simply as a convenience so that folks can go read some of the posted customer reviews just to get different perspectives on the item. That's all.