Senate Confirms Captain ‘Sully’ as ICAO Ambassador

Chesley Sullenberger III's confirmation comes as the Biden Administration is expected to push for new global aviation emission standards.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III as the ambassador for the U.S. on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal.

Sullenberger was confirmed by voice vote December 2, becoming the 18th U.S. representative to the United Nations’ aviation standards-setting agency

“It is one of the greatest honors of my life to be confirmed as United States Ambassador to ICAO,” Sullenberger said. “I look forward to working together with other ICAO members and leaders in global aviation to ensure the highest levels of safety and security and to address the many challenges we face.”

The news comes as the White House is expected to push for new, ambitious standards in international aviation emissions during ICAO’s upcoming negotiations in February, Reuters reported. The Biden Administration has said it aims to curb aviation emissions by 20 percent by 2030, with U.S. aviation achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Sullenberger became a household name in January 2009, when he and first officer Jeffrey Skiles safely landed a US Airways Airbus 320-200 in the Hudson River in New York City with 155 passengers and crew onboard, after the aircraft’s engines suffered catastrophic failure and in-flight shutdown following a series of bird strikes. 

In 2017, actor Tom Hanks played Capt. Sullenberger in a movie based upon the incident, which some in the industry say underscored the value of learning how to fly by TLAR, or “that looks about right.”

“Captain Sullenberger certainly understands aviation and its global reach, and the United States and ICAO would benefit greatly from his experience, knowledge, and leadership,” Jim Coon, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association senior vice president of government affairs and advocacy, said in June when Sullenberger was nominated by President Biden. 

Thursday, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) took aim at the six-month delay in the Senate vote.

“This nomination is extremely important because the U.N. agency sets the standards and recommended practices for aviation globally,” ALPA president Capt. Joseph DePete wrote in a December 2 editorial published in the Dallas Morning News

“Every day that Sullenberger’s confirmation is delayed in the Senate compromises the U.S. standing in the world,” he said. “This is especially true as we face multiple challenges around the globe, including supporting economic recovery of international aviation during the pandemic, addressing climate change, and ensuring the safety and security of Americans when they travel by air.”

Following the vote, aviation groups cited the benefit of the extensive aviation experience Sullenberger will bring to the position. 

“ICAO plays an essential role in advancing international aviation safety and cooperation, environmental sustainability, and global interoperability of aviation products that will shape the future of the industry,” General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce said in a statement. “As a military and civil aviator, Ambassador Sullenberger has decades of experience with aerospace technological innovation and knows the vital role these advancements play in making global aviation safer, as well as aircraft and airspace operations more efficient.”

“Captain Sullenberger is one of the preeminent aviation figures of our time, someone whose name is synonymous with aviation safety and leadership,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association.

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