Lessons of the Sully ‘Miracle,’ 10 Years Later

By Cheryl Albiez, Media Relations Staff

Northeast of the George Washington Bridge, a plane at an altitude of 3,000 feet directly above the Bronx encountered a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009. US Airways Flight 1549 lost all engine power, and returning to the airport or diverting to another was not a viable option. 

With only 900 feet of bridge clearance and without an engine thrust, pilots Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the Airbus A320-214 onto the Hudson River. All 150 passengers and five crew members aboard were rescued, in what would become known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

In the ensuing 10 years, the Port Authority has worked diligently to continue to develop mitigation plans and risk-management strategies that minimize the possibility of severe and highly damaging bird strikes, of the kind that disabled Flight 1549.

The Port Authority is not just focused on the safety of the traveling public, but also the safety of the communities that surround its facilities, specifically the airports where planes soar above dense populations of people. The major airports are located in the bustling New York metropolitan area, where millions of people live, work and visit.

The agency maintains a qualified team of wildlife biologists and units that monitor, relocate and protect against wildlife hazards and bird strikes at all of its airports: LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, New York Stewart International and Teterboro. Chief Wildlife Biologist Laura Francoeur and Senior Wildlife Biologist Jeff Kolodzinski work with other wildlife biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on mitigation projects across all five airports.

The agency’s integrated wildlife hazard management programs reduces on-airport bird habitats, limits standing water and minimizes food sources. Efforts include habitat and construction management, as well as involvement in research projects to track wildlife movements, diets and nesting, and grass height management. Tools used to monitor and manage wildlife range from visual and auditory deterrents, fencing, netting and spikes to lasers, traps and bird relocations. Examples of the strategies used to combat wildlife hazards are illustrated by CNN, shown here.

Wildlife strike numbers fluctuate from year to year, due to factors such as weather, reporting and changes in wildlife populations.  Among the most hazardous species are the herring gull, osprey and Canada goose. The hazard ranking is based on the frequency of strikes with a species, the severity of damage caused, bird size and the chance that multiple birds will be struck – flocking species versus non-flocking species.  The most frequently struck species tend to be smaller birds, rarely resulting in damage.

“Knowing the difference between the species that are frequently struck versus species that are more likely to result in damaging strikes helps us to focus management resources more effectively,” Francoeur said. “For example, our habitat management program focuses on making the airport as unattractive to wildlife as possible.  We limit the food, cover, and water that may attract them. Once they are on the airport, we have many different tools and strategies to deter and disperse wildlife.”

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Additional efforts include a bird relocation program through a partnership with the Port Authority, United Airlines and  Audubon International, as well as working with community volunteers and others to humanely trap, relocate and resettle raptors such as hawks, falcons and owls at welcoming suitable golf course habitats, where the species are more likely to thrive.

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Exploring All Rhoads to Success at LGA

By Alana Calmi, Media Relations Staff

It was just after 5 p.m. on a recent Thursday evening and Chris Rhoads, the manager of airport operations at LaGuardia Airport, was engaging in one of his favorite pursuits – talking with high school kids about a future in aviation.

This evening, however, would turn out to be a little different. Rhoads was awarded the William H. Spurgeon Award, the highest recognition for individuals who contribute significant leadership to the Exploring Program, an affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America. The award was presented by LaGuardia’s General Manager Lysa Scully, and Claretta Mills, chief executive of the Explorer Program.


Claretta Mills, Chris Rhoads, Lysa Scully

“I was very surprised,” said Rhoads, who has been head of the Port Authority’s Explorer Program for 10 years. “It’s a very good organization and an honor enough to work with these kids – and in some cases have a real influence on their future.”

The program enables high school students to learn about a variety of potential careers first-hand. The Spurgeon award was created in 1971 to honor the driving force behind the program. At LaGuardia, explorers usually meet every third Thursday of the month during the school year. Typically, the majority of participating students come from Aviation High School in Queens, Rhoads’ alma mater.

“Chris’ program tends to always draw the largest crowd, average well over 100 students for the first session in October,” said Scully said. “His commitment to these kids, and sharing his knowledge on aviation, is a treat for both him and the students.”

Rhoads has spent the last 40 years in aviation — first in the airline industry with TWA, and then at the Port Authority for the past 20 years, “I was always close to the parts that fly,” he jokes.

“This program is unique in that it joins the student with the workplace. It’s a visceral experience as opposed to just a learning experience,” he said. “And they are placed with people who are actually in the career and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about getting the students’ horizons expanded to see what’s available to them.”

Rhoads’ favorite part of the experience is when the students visit the American Airlines hangar, giving students the opportunity to meet, watch and talk to aircraft mechanics while they work. “It’s my favorite part because the students really enjoy it,” he said. “But I think the mechanics enjoy it more than the students.”

On the first day of program, Rhoads delivered an airport orientation, with details as to how LaGuardia operates on a daily basis, followed by a tour of the LGA airfield. Students also learn about LGA’s airport snow operations, and were given the opportunity to sit in and explore the snow equipment first-hand.

0086During the last meeting of 2018, the Explorers visited Building 137 — also known as the police emergency garage — to meet with personnel from ARFF (Aircraft Rescue Firefighting), who explained how the unit works and their importance to maintaining safe operations at the airport. The students also had the chance to sit inside and inspect trucks and support vehicles.

For 2019, the Explorers Program will include visits to the control tower, spending time at Vaughn College (where undergrads learn about aviation), an educational session with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) team at LaGuardia and a tour of the LaGuardia fuel farm.

Rhoads is optimistic about the future of his Explorers. “My goal is that everyone goes to college. Not everybody can, but that doesn’t mean a good future is not open to them,” he said. “There are many choices that can be made in the aviation industry.”

Posted in air travel, airports, aviation, aviation geeks, FAA, LaGuardia Airport, LGA, New York, NYC, Port Authority, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Port Authority of NY/NJ, Uncategorized, volunteers | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Connie’s Return Flight to JFK

By Rudy King, Media Relations Staff

While most of the John F. Kennedy International Airport landscape today is dotted with new age aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, tucked inside the airport’s Hanger 20 is a cool piece of Aviation history from a bygone era that paved the way for these modern aircraft.

The shell of a 1958-era Lockheed Constellation plane, nicknamed “Connie,” was recently delivered to the airport and — while it’s no longer airworthy – the aircraft soon will serve in an entirely new capacity: as a cocktail lounge for the new TWA Hotel, which is scheduled to open next year.


Known as the secret weapons of TWA, the Lockhead Constellation planes were things of beauty. First produced in 1939 and commissioned by TWA’s owner Howard Hughes, the aircraft, with a 50-foot wingspan and able to cruise at 300 miles per hour, broke the transcontinental speed record on a flight from Burbank, CA to New York in 1946. It also served as Air Force One for President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

Though these aircrafts were wildly popular in their heyday – even used by South American drug traffickers to drop drugs while in flight — only 44 L-1649s were produced. Only four remain today.

In early 2018, MCR Development purchased “Connie” and partnered with Atlantic Models / Gigo Aviation to restore the historic aircraft to the original 1958 condition.

The fully restored plane was disassembled and transported by trailers from Maine’s Auburn-Lewiston Airport to JFK Airport, where its new career as Connie N8083H will transform into a one-of-a-kind cocktail lounge on the tarmac outside the TWA hotel scheduled to open in 2019.


Posted in air travel, airport history, airports, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Kennedy Airport, TWA Flight Center, Uncategorized