Ambassador “Sully” Sullenberger


Published 7/9/2024
Cailin Conner

Captain and U.S. Ambassador ‘Sully’ Sullenberger to Serve as Presidential Guest Speaker at AAOS 2025 Annual Meeting

Ambassador “Sully” Sullenberger has been selected as the Presidential Guest Speaker for the AAOS 2025 Annual Meeting, taking place March 10 to 14 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

Each year, the Your Academy event features addresses from AAOS leadership; the annual AAOS awards for distinguished research and leadership; and the Presidential Guest Speaker, invited by the outgoing AAOS president. For 2025, AAOS President Paul Tornetta III, MD, PhD, FAAOS, selected Ambassador Sullenberger to speak during the marquee event of the meeting.

“Pilots and surgeons have much in common,” Dr. Tornetta said. “There are many systems in place to protect those in our charge, whether it be at 35,000 feet or on an operating table, but in the end, it is the pilot or surgeon who bears the ultimate responsibility. The urgent challenge that Ambassador Sullenberger faced is not dissimilar to events that can occur in the operating room. Neither, unfortunately, was the difficult situation that he faced as these emergent split-second decisions were second-guessed by reviewers who were not there and had the luxury of time.

“I think that Ambassador Sullenberger’s message will resonate with our members and be an uplifting event for all,” Dr. Tornetta added.

Ambassador Sullenberger was born and raised in Denison, Texas, and he learned to fly at the age of 16. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship Award as the top flyer in his graduating class. He holds master’s degrees in industrial psychology from Purdue University and public administration from the University of Northern Colorado, as well as honorary Doctorates of Letters from Purdue University and Pepperdine University.

At the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he graduated with honors, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and served as a fighter pilot, achieving the rank of captain. His military career took him across the globe, with assignments in North America and Europe. In 1980, he completed his military service and became a pilot with Pacific Southwest Airlines, which later became part of US Airways, and he continued flying as an airline captain until his retirement in 2010. He still flies privately.

A pivotal moment in Ambassador Sullenberger’s career came on January 15, 2009, when he, alongside First Officer Jeff Skiles, executed an emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. Known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” this event resulted from a bird strike that disabled both engines. The successful landing saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew onboard.

Ambassador Sullenberger, First Officer Skiles, and their crew earned international acclaim for their actions, highlighted by a Congressional resolution recognizing their bravery. Ambassador Sullenberger was ranked second in TIME’s “Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009.” He was also awarded the French Legion of Honour.

Ambassador Sullenberger served as the U.S. ambassador and representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations Specialized Agency based in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Nominated by President Biden and confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 2021, he served in that esteemed role through 2022. During his tenure, he addressed critical aviation crises involving Belarus, Russia, and climate change.

Ambassador Sullenberger’s efforts in safety extend beyond his piloting career. He has been an active safety advocate, contributing to accident investigations and safety committees. He played a key role in developing the Crew Resource Management course at US Airways, further cementing his reputation as a leader in aviation safety.

In addition to his aviation accomplishments, Ambassador Sullenberger is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author. His works include Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters and Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America’s Leaders. In 2016, the film “Sully,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, brought Ambassador Sullenberger’s story to the silver screen.

Ambassador Sullenberger has lectured internationally on topics ranging from aviation safety to leadership and crisis management. His engagements include presentations at the World Economic Forum and the Swiss Economic Forum. From 2009 to 2013, he co-chaired the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, which inspires youth to pursue aviation.

The AAOS 2025 Annual Meeting will be March 10 to 14 in San Diego, California. Hotel booking is now open. Meeting registration and the full program will be available beginning in November; go to

Cailin Conner is the associate editor of AAOS Now. She can be reached at