An upgrade to the captain’s seat for ‘Miracle’ flight hero
Plus: News of the week — Charlotte braces for winter storm — CMS grapples with Covid staff absences — Is Covid peaking? — The story behind StarMed + Ledger crosswords encore presentation
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13 years ago today, first officer Jeff Skiles helped land a Charlotte-bound US Airways plane in the Hudson River; Says ‘life has not changed’ as he trains for new role
by Ted Reed
Thirteen years after US Airways Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson River instead of in Charlotte, First Officer Jeff Skiles is moving ahead in life, finally training to be a widebody captain.
The event on Jan. 15, 2009, has retained prominence in the legacy of commercial aviation, an enduring symbol of U.S. airline safety and a reminder of the importance of veteran crew members. Last month, the U.S. Senate confirmed the flight’s captain, Sully Sullenberger, to be the U.S. representative on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations air safety body.
Meanwhile, Skiles began training a week ago to be a Boeing 787 captain after more than three decades as a first officer. He expects his first flight will be in February, perhaps from Miami to South America.
Skiles, 62, joined American predecessor US Airways, then US Air, in 1986. He was based in Pittsburgh, then the primary hub, before it was eclipsed by Charlotte Douglas, where former airport director Jerry Orr built a lower-cost, broader-connectivity hub.
Skiles became one of those pilots who chose quality of life as a senior first officer, with more control over his life and scheduling, over higher pay as a captain. He flew both Airbus and Boeing aircraft, generally from the Philadelphia base.
During his long career, Skiles spent only one year flying as a captain, but not on a widebody jet. Rather, he flew a Fokker100 regional jet. US Airways operated Fokker 100s as mainline jets for about a decade.
“I was a captain on a Fokker 100 for a year prior to Sept. 11,” Skiles said. “I lost my captain bid, as did many, in the industry contraction after that event. Now, I have less than three years to go until age 65 mandatory retirement, and I am looking forward to returning to the left seat.”
A longtime resident of Oregon, Wis., near Madison, Skiles has always commuted to work.
In 2009, after eight years flying the Boeing 737 from Philadelphia, he decided to switch to Airbus. For his first flight, he bid on both Philadelphia and Charlotte, since he could commute to either.
His first Airbus trip was US Airways Flight 1549, which took off from LaGuardia heading to Charlotte at 3:25 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2009. Skiles, then 49, had command. But when the A320 hit a flock of birds, both engines went out and Sullenberger, the captain, took over. Together, the two pilots successfully guided the Airbus A320 onto the Hudson River. All 155 people on board survived.
It was Skiles’ only flight as a Charlotte pilot. Two months later, he was reassigned to Philadelphia.
In a sense, Skiles resembles the baseball pitcher Don Larsen, who led an ordinary life as a major league pitcher except for one day when he pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Larsen has said that he thought about the game every day afterward.
“I’m the opposite,” Skiles said. “Sometimes it seems like it happened to somebody else. So much has come of it, but my life has not changed. I live in the same house: I have the same neighbors — I’m just like anybody else.”
The biggest change in his life, Skiles said, is that “I’ve lost some hair. I don’t look as much like Aaron Eckhart.” The actor played Skiles in the 2016 movie “Sully,” which told the story of Flight 1549’s landing. Tom Hanks played Sullenberger.
Another thing that changed is that Skiles’ higher profile provided him a chance to advocate for aviation safety causes. After the landing, he worked several years as a safety advocate for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, which, at the time, represented 28,000 pilots at five mainline, regional and cargo carriers including US Airways.
Skiles focused on the 2009 crash of Continental Express Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y. The flight was operated by now-defunct Colgan Air: Fifty people, including one on the ground, were killed. The crash prompted efforts to address pilot fatigue and to significantly increase the pilot experience requirements necessary to fly regional jets.
“I was fortunate to work alongside the families of Continental Flight 3407, Sully, and concerned legislators and agency officials to significantly rewrite outmoded FAA regulation” he said. “Enhanced regulation raised the regional airlines up to the proven training standards and safety record of U.S. major airlines.”
The Continental Express 3407 crash was the last fatal commercial aviation accident in the U.S.
An amusing incident in Skiles’ post-1549 celebrity life came at Charlotte Douglas, on a spring day in 2010.
“Sully and I were flying his retirement trip,” Skiles recalled. “We both needed promotional photos of ourselves in uniform and in a cockpit. So, we were walking around the Charlotte airport looking for an airplane on a gate that we could use.
“A likely candidate was surprisingly hard to come by,” he said. “As you might imagine, the airplanes are either boarding or deplaning. They already have pilots in the cockpit just trying to do their jobs. Or, the mechanics are onboard doing their checks. The only airplane we could find that would fit the bill was a lone 757 out on the end of the B concourse. Neither of us had ever been qualified on a 757, but we used it for lack of anything better. Sully took some photos of me, I took some photos of him, and we use them to this day.”
(Photo credit: Sully Sullenberger)
Ted Reed, a former Miami Herald and Charlotte Observer reporter, is the author of “American Airlines, US Airways and the Creation of the World's Largest Airline.”
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Editor’s note: Because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, there is no scheduled edition of The Charlotte Ledger on Monday.
This week in Charlotte: Region prepares for big storm; Covid cases decline; staffing woes at CMS; big banks cut fees; new candidate in UCity city council race
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
Big storm coming: (WCNC) Charlotte and surrounding counties are under a winter storm watch for Sunday, which is expected to bring a wintry mix of freezing rain, ice, sleet and snow to the Charlotte region overnight Sunday with frigid temperatures expected through Monday. Meteorologists said to prepare for power outages in the event that ice accumulates and brings down power lines and tree branches. Many churches and other groups are canceling services and events for Sunday and Monday or moving them online, including some Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.
More environmental concern at paper mill: (The State) The New Indy paper mill that emitted a foul stench into south Charlotte and much of Upstate South Carolina has the cancer-causing chemical dioxin in its aging waste lagoons near the Catawba River. Regulators and politicians are concerned about erosion in the lagoon walls.
Longtime broadcast journalist to retire: (WSOC) WSOC-TV reporter Mark Becker is retiring from the station after nearly 38 years. His first story for the station was in March 1984, when he broadcast a report about the number of hotel rooms in Charlotte.
CMS Covid absences: (Ledger) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools continues to grapple with large numbers of teacher and staff absences as Covid forces workers to stay home due to illness or quarantine. Superintendent Earnest Winston told school board members Tuesday night that only a few classes or grades have had to move to remote learning, but that the district “may soon face some difficult decisions. It is nearly inevitable that teaching and learning will be impacted more significantly should the virus remain on its current trajectory.” While districts elsewhere have closed, a state law passed last year bans school boards from shutting schools because of the threat of Covid. Public school districts can have individual schools or classes go remote temporarily because of staffing shortages related to Covid quarantines.
New private school: (Ledger 🔒) Calvary Church is opening a new TK-7 school on its campus next fall, called Calvary Christian Academy. In opening the new school, Calvary will be absorbing another Christian school in the Cotswold neighborhood. The new school will meet in the Calvary Life Center on the church’s 93-acre campus at the corner of Pineville-Matthews and Rea roads.
Precinct map shift: (WFAE) The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to reverse a decision to shift a precinct that covers the Elizabeth and Cherry neighborhoods. CMS staff created a draft map last fall with new boundaries for the board’s six-member districts, but complaints surfaced after one board member made changes to the map.
Dueling assault charges: (Ledger 🔒, WBTV) Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston and his ex-wife accuse each other of assault stemming from an altercation last week. The two have been engaged in a nasty divorce, according to court filings.
Council race in University City heats up: (Biz Journal) Darlene Heater, the former head of University City Partners, announced she is running for City Council against incumbent Renee Johnson in the primary election this spring. Both are Democrats. Heater was executive director of University City Partners from 2013-2021 before leaving last month to become managing director of Panorama Holdings.
Maps approved: (WFAE/AP) A three-judge panel ruled that electoral maps drawn by Republican legislators can be used for this year’s elections. The ruling will be appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Clay Aiken returns to politics: (AP via WFAE) Former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken announced Monday he’s running for Congress again in North Carolina, this time vying for the seat of the retiring U.S. Rep. David Price. He’ll join the already crowded field for the Democratic primary in mid-May. This is his second run for Congress, after losing a race in 2014 in a largely rural district. This year, he’s running in a district that’s overwhelmingly Democratic and includes UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University.
Workplace vax mandate rejected: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to require employers with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or testing. North Carolina’s labor secretary told the News & Observer that the rule would have applied to at least 1.2 million N.C. workers.
Wells, BofA cut fees: (Marketwatch) Bank of America is eliminating fees for insufficient funds and dropping overdraft fees from $35 to $10, and Wells Fargo says it’s dropping insufficient funds fees and is starting a 24-hour grace period on overdraft fees. Regulators are eyeing crackdowns on bank fees, and competition with online banks is heating up. It’s part of a broader industry shift away from fees.
Davidson professor nominated to Fed board: (Reuters) Davidson College professor Philip Jefferson was nominated by President Biden to the board of the Federal Reserve, which sets the nation’s monetary policy. Jefferson “would be only the fourth Black man to sit on the panel and the first in more than 15 years,” Reuters reported.
Airline club closed: (Ledger) The main Admirals Club at Charlotte’s airport is closed for up to six months as American Airlines makes renovations. The airline has set up a temporary site with “grab and go” snacks in an office upstairs from the main atrium, and there’s also another but smaller club on the B concourse.
Record-breaking soccer attendance predicted: (Observer) Charlotte FC, the city’s new pro soccer team, says ticket sales are on track to beat the Major League Soccer attendance record at the team’s home opener on March 5. The record is 73,019, held by Atlanta, but Charlotte FC’s president says the team is “very confident” that the debut game will draw around 74,000 to Bank of America Stadium. Charlotte FC has also sold more than 20,000 season tickets and hopes to average 30,000 fans at home matches during its first season.
Allegations against agency aiding Afghan refugees: (Observer) Charlotte’s Catholic Charities office is managing the resettlement cases of over 200 Afghan refugees. But some of the newly arrived migrants and others in the community say they think Catholic Charities has insufficient and unresponsive staff that has resulted in some of the Afghan families being without enough food, reliable access to medical care or suitable housing. Catholic Charities officials say the agency has done “remarkable work” and that the refugees they are helping are living in safe housing with access to food, education, healthcare and jobs or job training.
Southerners are actually not bad at dealing with snow: (NC Rabbit Hole) North Carolina writer and native Ohioan Jeremy Markovich debunks the myth that southerners are horrible at handling winter weather, by humorously highlighting their penchants for innovation and weather avoidance.
Camping out for real estate: (Ledger 🔒) How’s this for a wild Charlotte real estate story? The market for new homes is so hot right now that Realtor Matthew Johnson slept outside a Belmont model home for four nights in frigid weather this week so he could be first in line to buy two new homes that were opening up for two investor clients.
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Life and death on the farm: (Ways of Life 🔒): Nancy Landstreet adored living on her family farm outside of York, S.C., so before she died in November at age 94, she left clear instructions for her loved ones to lay her to rest where she had lived. She lived a colorful, healthy and natural life, rooted in the farm but also reaching out to the world around her.
Testing out new uptown bike lanes: (Transit Time) New protected bike lanes uptown are nearly complete and provide a big boost to enhancing cycling options around the center city. Ely Portillo of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute tested them out last week and writes: “I felt something that I’ve rarely felt before on city streets: relaxed.”
New Chamber takes shape: (Monday) A new small-business networking group called the Charlotte Area Chamber of Commerce is up to 300 members and is growing. It started two years ago when founders sensed a void in Charlotte networking because of the realignment of traditional Charlotte business groups such as the Charlotte Chamber and Charlotte Regional Partnership, which combined to become the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.
Covid peaking? (Friday 🔒) The number of Covid cases in Mecklenburg has fallen in the last week, according to new state figures.
No-phone zone: (Friday 🔒) Some performers and event venues are now requiring audience members to put their phones in special high-tech pouches during performances to limit distractions and keep their material from showing up online. In Charlotte, audience members for next month’s visit by comedian Hasan Minhaj at the Belk Theater will be required to use the pouches.
December’s hot rezonings 🔥: (Monday 🔒) Rezoning petitions filed with the city last month include plans for a bakery and offices in Eastover, a huge 1.8 million s.f. industrial project on 147 acres near the airport, townhomes on Johnston Road near Ballantyne and 315 housing units in Rea Farms.
No bond for uptown power broker: (Monday) Tim Newman, the former head of Charlotte Center City Partners and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, was denied bond last week by a South Carolina judge. He is charged with threatening to blow up a dam north of Charleston and has been in jail since April 2020.
Where did StarMed come from? (Wednesday 🔒) StarMed Healthcare was able to grow quickly during the pandemic though a mix of fortunate timing, acting on hunches and embracing a risk-taking startup mentality. Its CEO is a chiropractor who saw an opportunity to move into medicine.
South Charlotte high school layout: (Friday 🔒) The latest plans for a new Ballantyne-area high school show the proposed locations of its entrance, sports facilities and main building, as well as where adjacent apartments will be.
Snowed in this weekend? Try out a Ledger crossword!
If winter weather forces you to stay put this weekend, we’ve got a solution for cabin fever-induced boredom: The Ledger’s Charlotte-themed crosswords!
We published five of them by Chris King in our newsletters in November and December, and this seems like the right time for an encore presentation. You can do them on a tablet or computer, but if you’re worried about power outages, you may want to go old-school and print them out on actual paper before the wintery mix starts falling.
Here’s a link to all of our crossword offerings. (They’re free.) Enjoy!
Friday’s newsletter misstated the date of the City Council rezoning meeting, which is expected to discuss projects of interest to residents in NoDa and Ballantyne (among others). The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, not Monday.
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