June 23, 2007

1st pilot for America West retires

On the reverse side of Randy McNerlin's US Airways employee badge, a pilot number reads in small, standard font: "P0001," a nod to the genesis of America West Airlines and, coincidentally, his career as a commercial pilot.

On Friday, McNerlin, who many consider the airline's first pilot, retired from the company with a jest of that special badge number.

"Who wants to see it?" the spry man with a white mustache joked to a crowd of about two dozen that had gathered at Terminal 4 of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to send him off.

McNerlin flew his last flight on Friday, the day before his 60th birthday. Federal law restricts pilots older than 60 from flying commercially.

Pilot numbers at US Airways, which merged with America West in 2005, now extend to more than 3,000. But for 24 years and three weeks, McNerlin held the most senior number.

"There's something about P0001," Elizabeth Graham, an 11-year US Airways pilot, said as she waited in the Jetway for McNerlin to come out of the plane. "It's just special for us."

In a tribute, two Sky Harbor emergency trucks created a 300-foot water arch for McNerlin's Airbus A320 to taxi through after it landed early from Seattle. Fifteen US Airways employees huddled near Terminal 4's windows to watch his last landing and taxi.

"Did he bounce it? " exclaimed Donna Bamonte, manager of pilot training scheduling, as a plane went airborne after a bumpy touchdown. "Yeah, he did."

"Then that wasn't him," replied a smiling Larry Taylor, one of McNerlin's colleagues and a friend.

As it turned out, it wasn't his plane.

McNerlin said he has flown more than 20,500 hours in his career at America West and US Airways. During Operation Desert Storm, he flew U.S. troops into Kuwait in an America West Boeing 747.

McNerlin's wife Lynn, 50, kissed her husband in the plane before most of the passengers had exited through the Jetway.

His 6-year-old son, Britton, surprised his dad with a white cardboard sign that read, "I Love My Daddy."

Scott Cendrowski, The Arizona Republic
Source at: The Arizona Republic

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