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August 2, 2017 | by Steve Lawrence

Miracle on the Hudson

How A Culture of Safety Saved 155 Lives

As U.S. Airways Flight 1549 plunged toward the Hudson River on that bright 20-degree afternoon in 2009, co-pilot Jeff Skiles sitting next to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was certainly scared. But he also knew exactly what to do.

“We have developed systems over the last 25 years that allowed us to be successful,” Skiles said. “And those systems are not particular to the airline industry. They transfer readily, as they must, to any business or organization where safety is the primary concern.”

You will not want to miss Jeff Skiles’ keynote speech at this year’s MSCI Safety Conference, Sept. 27-28 at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown. Skiles and Sullenberger, modern American heroes, in split seconds, facing subfreezing weather over the most populated metropolitan area in the country, were able to bring their Airbus 320 to a roaring, three-point landing on the Hudson with no loss of life. In those seconds, they were able to assess and realize that they could not return to La Guardia, or safely attempt a landing at Teterboro in New Jersey, and that they could not restart the engines that had been blown out by a flock of geese.

“It used to be with an engine failure, we would have to remember what to do, but as planes and flying became more complicated, it was obvious we needed written checklists and formalized procedures. The checklist is always out and ready during a flight. That is why communications did not break down between me and Sully and the attendants in the back of the plane. We know our roles even in an emergency situation.”

These checklists and procedures, he explained, have only been developed over the years because of a no-fault reporting system that is part of the industry from the FAA down to every flight officer. “We realized we needed a reliable data tracking and reporting system to learn from our mistakes, pinpoint errors that seem to be happening over and over and develop solutions. We were not looking to blame individuals and we make sure this reporting system shields the pilots from punishment or retribution if they report accurately and in a timely fashion.

“This is all part of our culture of safety and that culture drives everything we do,” Skiles said. “We did have to overcome the hesitancy of pilots to report, but over time we’ve changed the culture and made it clear that this information is shared throughout the industry, down to all front-line employees and has become an invaluable tool to save lives.

“Human beings are just human,” Skiles said. “The vast majority comes to work to do the best job they can. But management can help with that. And consistently analyzed quality assurance and accident data can enhance workers’ awareness.

“Every quarter, the top safety officials from each airline meet together to share their data in order to describe problems and solutions that can help everybody,” Skiles said. “You want to make sure that your organization is continually learning from its mistakes.”

Miracle on the Hudson co-pilot Jeff Skiles is just one of a lineup of insightful speakers you will hear at the 2017 Safety Conference.

Learn more about MSCI’s Safety Conference.

Register for the conference here. Members and non-members are welcome to attend.