Ambassador "Sully" Sullenberger
U.S. Air Force Fighter Pilot and Airline Captain in Command of
US Airways 1549 Hudson River emergency water landing
Thursday, April 11th, 2024
Ambassador “Sully” Sullenberger has been dedicated to the pursuit of safety his entire adult life. He recently served as the U.S. Ambassador and Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and is a sought-after speaker, safety expert, author and pilot.
Sullenberger considers it one of the greatest honors of his life having been asked by President Biden to be the U.S. Ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations Specialized Agency, in Montréal, Québec, Canada. He was nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2021. He served in the post in 2022. During his tenure he reasserted effective U.S. leadership at ICAO, tackling the aviation crises involving Belarus, Russia, a Middle East airspace dispute and climate change.
Upon reentering private life, he has resumed his profession as a keynote speaker to audiences around the world and continues his advocacy for safety in global air travel. Sullenberger has a long history of service. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and served as a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. He advanced to become a flight leader and a training officer, attaining the rank of captain. During his active duty, he was stationed in North America and Europe. After serving in the Air Force, in February 1980 he became an airline pilot with Pacific Southwest Airlines, later acquired by US Airways, until his retirement from commercial flying in March 2010. He still flies privately.
Sullenberger was an active and ardent safety advocate throughout his four-decade-long career. He was selected to perform accident investigation duties for the United States Air Force, and served as an Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) representative during a National Transportation Safety Board accident investigation. Additionally, Sullenberger served as a Local Air Safety Chairman for ALPA, and was a member of one of their national technical committees, where he contributed to the creation of a Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular. He was also instrumental in developing and implementing the Crew Resource Management course used by US Airways, and he taught the course to hundreds of other airline crewmembers.
After logging more than 20,000 hours of flight time Sullenberger became internationally renowned on January 15, 2009 when he, as Captain, and his First Officer Jeff Skiles safely guided US Airways Flight 1549 to an emergency water landing in New York City’s frigid Hudson River, during what has been called the “Miracle on the Hudson.” The Airbus A320’s two engines had lost thrust following a bird strike. In terms of total combined years of flying since they had become pilots, Sullenberger and Skiles had 75 years’ experience at that time. And in terms of total years of just airline flying experience, they had a combined 50 years, so they were an extraordinarily experienced crew.
Sullenberger, Skiles and their crew received international acclaim for their actions that day, including the passage of a Congressional resolution recognizing their bravery. Sullenberger was ranked second in TIME's "Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009” and was awarded the French Legion of Honour.
Sullenberger is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters and also wrote Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders. Clint Eastwood directed the major motion picture about Sullenberger’s life, titled SULLY, based on Highest Duty. Tom Hanks starred in the lead role; Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney co-starred. The film was released to critical acclaim in September 2016 and garnered four Broadcast Film Critics nominations and one Academy Award nomination. Highest Duty was republished that year as SULLY: My Search for What Really Matters.
Sullenberger has been an international lecturer and keynote speaker at educational institutions, corporations and non-profit organizations about the importance of aviation and patient safety, high performance systems improvement, leadership, crisis management, lifelong preparation, and living a life of integrity. He presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2011, as well as the Swiss Economic Forum that same year. From 2009 to 2013, he served as co-chairman of EAA Young Eagles—a program that inspires and educates youth about aviation. In more recent years, he has also been outspoken in defending our democracy.
Born and raised in Denison, Texas, Sullenberger pursued his childhood love of aviation by learning to fly at age 16, while still in high school, and later at the United States Air Force Academy. At his graduation from the Academy in 1973, he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship Award. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in psychology, he also has two master's degrees, one in industrial psychology from Purdue University and one in public administration from the University of Northern Colorado. He also has an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Purdue University.