Capt. Sully Sullenberger: Airplane automation a growing concern

Four years ago, U.S. Airways captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger made the most famous emergency landing of all time when he put his Airbus A320 down safely in the Hudson River after a bird strike knocked out both the engines.

Sully is now a CBS News aviation consultant. He spoke with "Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley about the deadly plane crash landing in San Francisco Saturday and sorts through the latest speculation on what had gone wrong.

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Scott Pelley: Sully, the safety board told CBS News Monday that the aircraft was about 30 knots below its recommended air speed just before it crashed. What does that tell you?

Capt. Chesley Sullenberger: It's a very large deviation, especially for an airplane at such a low altitude. It's going to be important for the investigators using all their human factors and knowledge to try to figure out not only what happened (and) how it happened, but why it happened.

"CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley interviews Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberg on July 8, 2013.
"CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley interviews Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberg on July 8, 2013.
CBS News

Pelley: How do you get 30 knots below your air speed?

Sullenberger: The things they'll be looking at when they investigate this is whether fatigue was involved. This was an overnight flight of ten hours from Seoul. These pilots were on their body clock about 3:30 in the morning, Seoul time, when they're landing at 11:30 (a.m.) in the west coast. They'll see if distraction was responsible in terms of a factor, if the crew leadership and resource management was effectively being put in place, what kind of training they might have gotten. A number of factors. We don't even know how many factors yet.

Pelley: These aircraft, and the 777 in particular, is so wondrous advanced in terms of their technology. Are we in a day and age now where pilots are just sitting in the seat while the airplane does so many things automatically, that the pilots have not had enough practice landing the airplane manually that way?

Sullenberger: That's a growing concern within the industry globally. But we must remember is that each of these airplanes, no matter how sophisticated, is at its core an airplane. It must still be flown and flown well by human pilots. We have to remember that even though this there's technology involved, human skill is involved and we must have enough practice that we can effectively manually control the airplane, and even when we're using technology, we must be engaged and aware and mentally flying the airport even if the actuation of the controls is being done by a computer.

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

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