For those yet to see the movie Sully, I highly recommend it. I came away entertained, and as an Airbus A320 pilot, pleased with the technical accuracy.
Obviously the culling demands of screenwriting call for year-long investigations to be severely paraphrased and certain items were tweaked for dramatic effect, but all in all, it is a great film.
But I walked away with something more.
As a 50-something year old airline pilot, certain phrases particularly resonated with me. Such as, despite having a distinguished 40 year aviation career, Sully felt that he was now to be judged on a mere 208 seconds – the time between striking the birds and touching down on the Hudson River. I felt heavily for Sully at this point and considered my own career in light of his statement.
In aviation we are taught to never leave the door open for arrogance or complacency. It is a career dedicated to ongoing education and frequent self-critiquing, aware that there is no such thing as a perfect flight – we can always do better. It is not a depressing thought, but a challenge that pilots work towards their entire career. And it is that entire career aspect that the Sully movie rammed home to me.
Sully’s drama aboard Flight 1549 came in what one might consider the twilight of his career, but the reality is that there is no room for twilight performances. The fare-paying passengers in the cabin of any airliner deserve the crew’s A-game regardless of the stage one’s career may have reached. There is no room for winding down and easing gently into the night.
Thousands of hours in the air serve to provide experience – a backbone of instinct that can be integrated with procedures and checklists, but can also serve to know when priorities need to change and decisions need to be made. This is nowhere more evident than in the efforts of Sullenberger and his first officer over New York.
Subtle details in the film conveyed significant messages too – Sully requiring his uniform to be dry cleaned as a priority on the night of the event and his commitment to his health, jogging along the foreshore and through the streets of the Big Apple. Despite his senior age, career status and even the ditching on the Hudson, it was evident that he was still committed to maintaining his self-discipline.
His concern for his passengers, his anxiousness awaiting confirmation that all 155 souls on board were accounted for and recognising the efforts of his entire crew while maintaining his humble dignity throughout were all qualities that any aspiring or established pilot should strive for.
The sound of the flightdeck warnings such as the ECAM chimes and the GPWS would grab the attention of any pilot, but the calm manner of the crew should grab the attention of all that see this movie. Personally, this movie reaffirmed my choice of career, but also reminded me that there is no room for tapering off in personal standards until the brakes are parked for the very last time.
These are not necessarily the thoughts that every cinema-goer will sense or appreciate, nor should they. First and foremost, this film is an entertaining drama that proves that fact can be even more incredible than fiction. The portrayal on the big screen of the crew that ditched on the Hudson River reminded me that fate does not discriminate when it comes to call.
Whether it be a pilot’s first flight or a final farewell, we should treat every day with the same respect and humility that this wonderful profession and the travelling public demands.
(Author Owen Zupp’s latest book “Without Precedent“, which details the life of his father, RAAF fighter pilot and World War Two Commando Phillip Zupp, is out now. https://www.owenzupp.com/without-precedent)