Cruz Pushes Nolen For FAA Administrator


Sen. Ted Cruz says Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen would be a slam dunk to take the permanent appointment if the Biden administration nominated him. Cruz, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which is reviewing the nomination of Phil Washington to the post, has stridently opposed the appointment, citing Washington’s relative lack of aviation experience. He’s currently CEO of Denver International Airport but most of his experience since he retired from the Army 20 years ago has been in public transit.

Nolen had a long career as an American Airlines pilot before becoming its manager of flight safety. He also served in senior executive posts for Airlines for America, Qantas and WestJet in an aviation career spanning 33 years. He joined the FAA as its associate administrator for aviation safety. “I think it’s clear that Phil Washington is not going to have the votes,” Cruz said. “I think a nominee like Acting Administrator Nolen would receive widespread bipartisan support and could get confirmed quickly.” Meanwhile, previous FAA Administrators Michael Huerta and Jane Garvey have signed a letter of support for Washington, saying “he has the necessary experience to be administrator,” and Nolen himself has voiced his endorsement of Washington’s appointment.

Nolen was back before lawmakers to address growing concerns about the number of runway incursions involving airliners in recent weeks. The most recent revelation is of a Feb. 16 incident at Sarasota-Bradenton airport in which an Air Canada Rouge A321 was cleared for takeoff while an American Boeing 737 was cleared to land on the same runway. He said the FAA is investigating every incident “as if it had been an actual event” and that the agency is fully engaged on the issue. “The FAA absolutely has a grasp on the situation and it’s something that we look at every day,” Nolen told reporters. “We’ll take a look at these near misses and see if there are lessons to be learned.” Nolen has organized a meeting of industry officials next week to discuss safety issues.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I still have reservations. He is definitely more qualified than Mr. Washington. Problem is with Mr Nolen being an FAA insider, I don’t see anything changing within the FAA if he is made Administrator.

  2. There’s a guy named John Boccieri, who used to fly fighter planes and work for United Airlines. He got support from a bunch of aviation groups like the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), and The Regional Airline Association (RAA). This shows that Boccieri knows a lot about aviation and cares about safety and updating things. And he is a democrat.

  3. “Rollin’ with Cap’n Nolen”, YGBSM? Get the guy from the GAMA that was at the House Reauthorization Hearing — he knows what he’s doing and can get it done.

  4. Hi all,
    I posted some comments on 2 other articles on avweb on this subject.
    I’m all in on Mr. Nolen to be appointed perm administrator. Look at his background
    and qualifications. He worked his way up, he knows aviation. There is a poll on avweb
    if the administrator should be a pilot. Overwhemingly we voted yes!
    Raf mentioned a Mr Boccieri, while a good pick also, he fies C-130’s and a FO for united, im hoping Mr. Nolen gets the nod. A little older, and his quals in safety
    for American, West Jet, Qantas, makes him the ideal pick.
    My quals- 10 yrs USAF Atc, 28 yrs FAA Atc. Retired.
    I sat in last year at airventure, at theatre in the woods, annual meet the administrator
    hosted by jack pelton EAA. Mr Nolen is the real deal.
    Please support Mr. Billy nolen for perm FAA administrator.

    michael radtke
    retired FAA
    EAA lifetime

    • There have been several recent administrators who were pilots, and none of them really seem to have improved the internal workings of the FAA. Just because they are/were a pilot, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily suited for the job of leading the FAA. I think having A background in aviation (ATC, airport administrator, pilot, whatever) and a proven record of leading is more important than just being a pilot.

      • Did anyone ever consider that the FAA is not fixable no matter who heads it up? It seems pretty clear to me.

  5. Since Mr. Nolen has been in the “management path” for Flight Standards (both as the associate administrator and as the administrator) things have not been going well. The DPE program is a mess, the administration fumbled the “training in experimental aircraft” problem, FSDOs are becoming increasingly unresponsive, and the people working in Flight Standards are demoralized. GA is getting hurt.

    Add to that the recent flurry of ATO problems (the NOTAM system collapsing, the numerous runway problems, etc.), and things don’t look good for the status quo.

    The FAA needs a fresh start. Mr. Washington may or may not be the right person, but now is not the time to promote from within. The FAA needs a leader, not a follower.

  6. Hi all,
    Rob M, your points are well taken. But alot of the problems are not mr nolens fault.
    many people below him should be held responsible.
    LODA, the new ICTRA cert database, atc errors, pilot errors. fsdo, short staffing, funding, lack of teeth to due something about the problem, law breaking pilots.
    atc training, used to be 50% washout okc. but as in todays society no more scores or grades. everyone passes. a tropy hug and certificate. trust me the last few years of my atc career wore me down. trying to train and supervise the untrainable. unbelievable that some of the trainees we got passed at okc. .
    people in todays society getting jobs because of how many boxes they can check.
    uniteds aviate pilot program At GYR, mandated, 80% min women or people of color.
    whatever happened to the most qualified or by merit?
    aviation accidents, pilots found not current, expired medicals, expired annuals, not cert in plane flying. Just seems to be no accountability in todays society.
    a 40 yr jr college instructor friend told me recently that if he applied the same standards of 40 yrs ago that 70% of the students would flunk. The latest atc errors
    at KBUR, Sarasota, KAUS, just downright scary.
    Wheres the supervision?


    • Did you not just make Rob M’s point?

      None of the problems being recited are the “fault” of Billy Nolen, and he seems to be a valuable member of the management team, but the responsibility for addressing those problems belongs to the Administrator (“Acting” or Congressionally-confirmed).

      To reiterate a point I have made many times, a successful FAA Administrator requires no actual experience in aviation. The primary function of the FAA is to provide grants to states and private contractors for aviation services and infrastructure, and to supervise a tiny (relative to its budget) workforce. Managing such an amalgam of disparate (and competing) entities is the very definition of “herding cats”. The job is not one where thousands of hours behind the stick will be at all useful. Every so often, someone will come along with the requisite management skills, who was also involved in some form of aviation, but that’s just gravy, like being photogenic, well-spoken, and thick-skinned.

      Who thinks Dale Earnhart Jr. would make a good FHA administrator?

  7. Ted Cruz is not Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. It is Chaired by Senator Maria Cantwell, from Washington state.

  8. hi all,
    thanks chip D for your perspective. but as someone who spent 38 yrs on the inside,
    i.e. atc, it was great to have someone who had some aviation experience.
    Mr washington, one yr aviation office at denver as a ceo. previous office LA transportation, now embroiled in past corruption and scandal.
    no thanks, i’ll pass on him.

    as to the atc gaffes, this can only be stopped by direct supervision. too many young newbies. more will happen until a castrophe. the only way is to have enough supervisors in the twr cab or radar room, directly listening to and monitoring the action. the faa cannot rely on newbies, probably working combined positions, and also acting as
    CiC- controller in charge

    this is not just related to aviation.
    look at the latest train derailments. 2 people working on a 137car freight train. my god , how about someone in the very back watching ahead ?

    again, ive met billy nolen. hes smart, well spoken, knowledgeable, he talked about
    mosiac, staffing & covid at the cert branch in okc, 100LL, etc.
    jack pelton was an excellent host and asked good questions.
    his most greatest qualifications are his safety related jobs. especially right now!
    yes also as others, i didnt think id ever agree with ted cruz, but hes got this one correct!
    please consider Mr. Billy Nolan as permanent FAA administrator.



  9. This gentleman makes perfect sense for this position and he checks the progressives boxes. But because he has the backing of Cruz it will never happen.

  10. hi all,
    john M,
    with the make up of the house and senate now, it will be a bi partisan vote
    and i think that Mr . Nolen will get the nod.
    my fingers are crossed. He’ got lots to do, but his drive and enthusiam to do so
    will set an example to the faa workforce.