Today's ditching of the USAirways Airbus in the Hudson River in NY was handled in a textbook manner by the captain and crew. Everyone got a bit wet and cold, but they are all alive. What a beautiful outcome!
I'm a retired air traffic controller; before 9/11 we rode along with pilots in the cockpit for training purposes. I've had many opportunities to see crew act professionally, not during this type of event, but enough so I really trust those flying the big iron.
The thing to remember is that most situations are survivable if you keep your wits about you. Looks like those on this flight followed their instructions, got their life vests on, and were relatively calm as they waited for rescue. Thank goodness!
Bird strikes can cause horrific damage - it might be hard for most people to understand how running into a bird (of any size) that would then be obliterated could cause damage. Aircraft are amazingly delicate in some ways - toss a pebble into a jet engine and that's all she wrote! So many things have to function 100% for flight to occur. Even a small bird ingested in an engine can cause fan breakage, can cut off the air intake, can be ingested deep inside the engine - any of which can cause shutdown or explosion.
I've seen a fighter jet take off and run into a flock of blackbirds - no crash, but upon the immediate return for landing, the crew found the underside of the jet coated with birds, and there were hundreds dead on the runway. If any pilot suspects any bird strike, the procedure is to land ASAP to check for damage.
Airports take lots of measures to discourage birds (and other wildlife) from considering the runways and environs to be safe havens. It just doesn't always work. I worked at one small airport that was unfenced (more common than you'd think). The airport authority rented out some of the land, even some close to the taxiways, out to a local farmer, who then planted corn. In the afternoons you could see the deer peeking out from the corn, checking out the situation, then bounding across the taxiways and runways to the other side of the airport. If you think a bird strike causes damage, imagine contact with a deer!
I hope none of you are put off flying because of this event. It really is safer than driving! I'm flying next week from the east coast to Los Angeles, and I'm OK with it. Pilots, I trust.
The thing to worry about is the current retirement boom in the air traffic control profession (it's been 27 years since the current workforce replaced those lost in the '81 strike), and the FAA's failure to launch enough fully trained replacements. It can take 1-3 years to train a controller, depending on the facility assigned.
Under the guise of cost-cutting, there have been several failures to incentivize the profession. To become a controller today, you'd have to really REALLY love the work (like I surely did) to hang in there, get trained, then put up with shift work and all the workplace bulls--t on a daily basis.
And did I mention it's still a white male profession? In all the years since I became a controller in '82, women have only comprised between 8-12% of the workforce. Minorities fare a bit better, but not much. Hey! I'm on my soapbox here. It's still a great job - miss it very much. A profession where I was constantly amazed - "I get paid for this?" I was someone who found that "Do what you love, the money will follow." I can only wish the same for all of you.
For more info, check out www.natca.org and www.pwcinc.org. For hiring info, www.faa.gov/jobs/. Thanks for listening!