Jeff Skiles: How to Handle Fame? Ignore It
The supposed benefits of living in the information age are way overrated. We're bombarded with a constant stream of noise from cable news, radio, Web sources and even our damn cellphones. I use the word "noise" purposefully, because the information stream is mostly carrier with not much modulation.
Like a swirling river at flood stage, the information flow sometimes picks up something or someone and sweeps them to instant overnight fame. In the aviation world, two such examples are Chesely B. Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles. Sullenberger has practically been elevated to Wheaties box status, Skiles a little less so. But after their dramatic ditching of an A320 in the Hudson on January 15th, 2009, both are in demand as speakers.
That carries some baggage related to adulation and curiosity that can be a little creepy. When I interviewed Jeff Skiles earlier this week at the Aircraft Electronics Association meeting or Orlando, I asked him how he's dealt with this in the 15 months since the accident.
"Basically," he said, "I ignore it." He doesn't read the continuing press coverage of the end, hasn't seen much TV coverage of it and tunes out the Web babble. How refreshing. Like Sullenberger, he accepts paid invitations to speak, but has used the event to focus interest on a cause he believes in, which is elevating the lowest levels of pilot pay to livable standards. He believes there's a direct correlation between pay and potential pilot competence.
He's also doing a lot of speaking on aeronautical decision-making, which he'll presenting at Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland this week. I'd recommend attending one of these sessions. Skiles is down-to-earth, well-spoken pilot cut from the old cloth, which is to say he views the airline job more as a calling than just a way to earn money.
It would be a gross exaggeration to say that this attitude is rare in the airline industry. It isn't. What is rare is the juxtaposition of circumstances that has put Skiles in a position to use his fame to put a best-foot-forward spin on aviation.
The more of that kind of thing we can get, the better. (Sans the water landing thing, of course.)