It’s been more than a year since FAA Administrator Steve Dickson left the agency just more than halfway through his five-year term. Then-Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Billy Nolen became the Acting Administrator when Dickson took off, and he’s about to throw in the towel also, announcing in late April he will “depart as soon as a new nominee is named this summer.” Nolen told his colleagues, “I have given everything to this agency, and now it’s time to do the same for my family, who have sacrificed so much and supported me during my time at the FAA.”
The thing is, the Biden Administration named a nominee to the post, Phil Washington, back in July 2022. He’s the Denver International Airport’s CEO but didn’t survive the U.S. Senate’s confirmation process, and ended up withdrawing himself from consideration in March. As this is written in late April, no new FAA Administrator has been nominated. Hopefully, that will have changed by the time you read this.
It’s no secret that Nolen had many challenges during his tenure as acting administrator, not least of which was dealing with the rash of runway incursions and losses of separation earlier this year. The aviation industry is still adjusting to post-pandemic realities, and in few places is that more visible than commercial air transportation. For now, at least, much of general aviation seems to have avoided the upheavals afflicting other segments, but our time may come, too.
Among opportunities for mischief is expiration of the FAA’s authorization on September 30, 2023. Congress seems off to a slow start, and avoiding that meat grinder has to have been at least part of Nolen’s decision to leave.
As for who should be the next FAA administrator, I’ll defer to reasoning behind the classic book and film Catch-22: Actually wanting the position should be disqualifying. But the agency needs some long-term directional control, and sooner rather than later.
Finally, you may have noticed a new “look and feel” to this issue, in addition to reducing the number of pages, which began in May. We’re going through a redesign, updating old formats and styles. Along the way, we’ll be trying out a few new things. We hope you’ll stick around to see what comes next.
— Jeb Burnside