Phil Washington has withdrawn his nomination to be leader of the FAA. What does this mean for the administration’s future leadership?
President Biden’s preferred choice to run the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has withdrawn his nomination, generating uncertainty around the administration’s future leadership. In July last year, President Biden nominated Phil Washington to be administrator of the FAA, and he had been expected to provide what Senate Commerce Chair, Maria Cantwell, called “a much-needed shake-up of the FAA.”
However, Washington lacked sufficient support in the closely divided Senate. Republicans were united in their criticism that he was not qualified to hold the position of the country’s top aviation regulator due to his limited experience in the industry.
Photo: Denver International Airport
This opposition came despite Washington having served as CEO of Denver International Airport (DEN) for the past two years, and prior to that, forming an integral part of President Biden’s 2020 transition team for the US Transportation Department, which includes the FAA.
The reaction to Washington’s withdrawal
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took to Twitter to confirm Washington’s withdrawal and to voice his opinion on the matter:
Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, issued a statement following Washington’s withdrawal, saying,
“Given the significant challenges facing the FAA, this wasn’t the time for an administrator who needed on-the-job training. The Biden administration must now quickly name someone to head the FAA who has an extensive aviation background, can earn widespread bipartisan support in the Senate, and will keep the flying public safe.”
Photo: Benson Truong | Shutterstock
The FAA has been without a permanent administrator for almost a year, following the departure of Stephen Dickson in March 2022. Billy Nolen was subsequently appointed acting administrator, and there is speculation that the White House could now name Nolan as a new nominee for the permanent position. With his extensive experience as a pilot who has also held safety-related roles in three airlines and the FAA, Nolen may be able to rally enough support from both sides of the Senate.
The FAA comes under fire
The FAA has faced criticism recently following a series of safety incidents, including several near-misses. As a result, the FAA issued a safety alert to airlines last week, reminding them of “the need for continued vigilance and attention to mitigation of safety risks.” Aging technology is also believed to have played a part in the mass disruption that followed January 2023’s NOTAM meltdown, which led the CEO of Delta Air Lines to call for a boost in funding for the FAA.
Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
In addition, the FAA’s reputation took a hit following the two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019, which occurred after the administration had certified the aircraft as airworthy. In the short term, at least, prolonged uncertainty surrounding the FAA’s leadership following Phil Washington’s withdrawal will do little to restore confidence from airlines and passengers across the US.
What do you make of Phil Washington’s decision to withdraw his nomination to be head of the FAA? Who do you think would be a suitable alternative? Share your thoughts by commenting below.