Biden Nominates Phillip Washington For FAA Administrator

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As we reported last month, President Joe Biden has nominated Phillip A. Washington as his new FAA administrator to replace Steve Dickson, who resigned in the spring. The Washington Post is reporting Washington’s nomination is rooted in his deep political ties to Biden as the administration grapples with an air transportation system fraught with difficulties, from staff shortages and constant flight schedule disruptions to conflicts with other major arms of the government. Washington’s background is in urban transit and he was a member of Biden’s transition team. His only aviation job was as the current CEO of Denver International Airport, where he seems to have earned a positive reputation. 

Kevin M. Burke, CEO of Airports Council International, said in a statement that Washington is a “real innovator and problem solver” and that “his knowledge and experience are exactly what we need in an FAA administrator.” Reaction from aviation groups has been tepid. Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, who has been engaged in a press release war with the FAA over flight delays, said the group “will continue to collaborate with the agency to ensure that commercial aviation remains the safest mode of transportation in the world,” while the National Air Transportation Association said it “is committed to working collaboratively with Phillip Washington on programs and solutions that enhance aviation safety.”

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40 COMMENTS

  1. “Reaction from aviation groups has been tepid.” So, the “administration” wants to put someone with absolutely no industry background into the agency responsible for aviation matters? We all know the real reason for this and it’s not administrative skill.

  2. I guess after reading the article we’re all supposed to think this appointment is only due to race. I’ve read about this in other publications and never picked up on race being an issue. Time will tell how Mr. Washington performs in his new job just the same way it always does with other appointments.

    • Do not forget he is a Biden insider and buddy, this is just another political plum appointment based upon politics not competence, but being right race was no doubt an additional factor, that will guarantee a fat retirement stipend which has become a big draw in all things government and public employment.

  3. Rather than search for a person who has extensive experience in all that is aviation, the President had the DOT Sec. picked one that is “Rooted in deep political ties to the President, and was part of the President’s transition team”. This person, who will now become the fall guy for the DOT Sec., has now been “rewarded” for his devotion to the Pres. and has been given a job that sucks.

  4. With no aviation experience, he–like most political appointees–will be dependent on his underlings for advice–and as usual in government, that advice usually is “don’t make waves”, and “don’t rock the boat.”

    TRULY A CASE OF “THE INMATES RUNNING THE ASYLUM!” What ever happened to hiring “The Best and the Brightest”?

    And people wonder why there is so little confidence in government to “do the right thing”!

  5. The political innuendo with its negative expressions here is becoming something of a norm. Can you imagine how these mental midgets making these comments would have responded to the choice of Winston Churchill as England’s Prime Minister with all his baggage or the choice of Volodymyr Zelenskyy or Ronald Reagan, both entertainers, to their respective positions?

    We, talking here about pilots, are all (insert your own adjective here) resentful of the FAA. And yes, they did screw-up big-time with the Boeing Max and elsewhere. But we still have the safest, most efficient air travel “opportunities” in the world! If you doubt this, cross the pond and start paying everytime you key your mic. It’s natural to resent authority and the FAA has been heavy-handed in exercising their authority lately, but perhaps what is needed is a little good old-fashioned leadership there. And just maybe that leadership is more precious than log books filled with flight hours and ratings.

    I agree with Bill R. and John W. Can we give the man a chance? And while we are at it, can we all return to thinking in terms of brotherhood of pilots instead of hateful, politically laced innuendo?

  6. The President hired a person he has worked with before to fill an important job in the Federal bureaucracy. Just like every President before him. You’d rather he picked someone randomly?

    You say he should have picked someone who knows everything about aviation (e.g. someone who has spent his life learning to fly, acquiring ratings, working up the food chain to the airlines, and not spent one minute in a management position) for one of the more challenging management jobs in the country? If you want to object to his background, you should be concerned that his experience running one of the busiest airports in the world makes him less GA-aware than we might want.

    And for the trolls with spittle-sticky keyboards, what would your response have been if there had been no picture at the top of the article?

    • WHO is playing the race card here? The closest I can find is the very first response:

      “Question: in this “mad tear for diversity hires”, will members of the Native American (i.e., Cherokee, Iroquois, Sioux, etc.) community ever be included in these picks?” AND EVEN THEN, THE QUESTIONER ASKS WHY NOT Native American?”

      Yes–government has gone far overboard to select nominees to fulfill their self-described “quotas” on race, religion, sexual orientation–and that has created pushback–even for those individuals otherwise well-qualified. NOMINATING someone based on the felt need to “check the box” is just as racist or discriminatory as denying a person because of the same criteria. Based on Mr. Niles description of Washington, any criticism is due to lack of experience in the vast government agency, rather than racism. The original article (see link in Mr. Niles account) from Seattle has the same concern–lack of experience in managing a VERY LARGE segment of the Federal Government–which in turn affects the fortunes of those investing in, working in, or regulated by that body. This is nothing to take lightly.

      Does ANYONE really believe that of all of the candidates out there, that Washington is the very best? Unlikely. One must ask the OBVIOUS QUESTION: WHY NOT THE DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR THAT HAS BEEN RUNNING FAA FOR THE LAST 6 MONTHS? Is Washington a better FAA head than the Deputy Administrator that has been running the FAA for the last 6 months?

      Perhaps so–the FAA has been criticized more and more lately for inefficiency and poor management–including criticism from these pages. Is it any wonder that most pilots don’t respect the FAA leadership?

    • There are many positions where the individual should have some knowledge of the industry they are overseeing. This gentleman has worked with the president on his campaign and is being rewarded for that work. He is said to be an able administrator so we will see but his knowledge is limited. You cannot deny this administration has gone out of it’s way to check many progressive boxes as to who it hires to the point they are ignoring their backgrounds and capabilities. All administrations do this but the current one in in hyperdrive. It is just a fact of our system.

  7. I’ll be happy if he can just get the FAA to actually do its job. The whole PAFI/EAGLE mess is a sickening example of an agency beholden to moneyed interests instead of looking for solutions to real problems. The fact that GAMI has a drop-in solution to the fuel problem but they have been thwarted at every turn for ELEVEN years by an agency where no one is willing to put their signature on a piece of paper is a sad testament to bureaucratic paralysis. I’m still waiting for an approval of a revision to some existing software to upgrade my autopilot that has been stuck down some rabbit hole at the Administration for TWO years. It’s a pretty sad day when the Europens (EASA) are more progressive than the country that invented aviation.

  8. I will have to hold judgement in reserve. It would be nice to have someone with real aviation background. This gentleman seems to have a good resume but we will see if he follows the current track of checking off the appropriate progressive agenda boxes or is really interested in addressing the real problems the FAA has.

  9. As a diversity hire, I expect he will be emboldened to enact all manner of recently proposed changes. Starting with fuel efficiency and CO2 requirements for newly certified designs, then add in a significant reduction of the “practical test standards” for airmen, er, ah, air-persons, ah, them/they/ze. Also expect preferred personal pronouns to be required…. Think I’m off base here, just watch…

    • The problem is that administrators come and go every few years, but the “inmates” are there for the long haul. They know that if the new boss comes up with some idea they don’t like, or may force them to make changes, all they have to do is play along for a year or two until some other new guy comes in and things will head off in another direction. Bureaucracy 101: Just do the minimum to stay employed and never make any decisions or actions that might be taking a risk.

  10. Unfortunately this administration is not really any different than prior Presidents with regard to selecting qualified individuals to run key departments. How many of the past four or five FAA Administrators have we all been happy with, or felt that they did a good job? Yes, it does seem to be getting worse, but that may be more a function of the structure and size of the agency rather than its leadership. When filling out their cabinet posts, new Presidents often choose from among their larger campaign contributors or their old cronies regardless of background or experience. We all rail against the logjam at the FAA, but I can tell you from experience that dealing with the EPA and OSHA is just as frustrating for the same reasons.

  11. Looking at the comments here–a SUGGESTION–“Why not take this opportunity for another AvWeb poll? Some suggestions:

    WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF THE FAA AND ITS ABILITY TO PROMOTE AVIATION SAFETY?
    . Top rate–the FAA is doing a good job of promoting aviation safety.
    . Second rate–the FAA is no better or worse than any other government agency or regulator.
    . Third rate–it makes no difference who is in charge of the FAA–for all of the regulation, their actions make little practical difference to aviation safety (and can even be negative at times).
    . Fourth rate–Government at its worst–vast over-regulation–no understanding of the industry it is tasked to regulate–actually holds back progress–a waste of billions of dollars.
    . Fifth rate–“The government that governs BEST governs LEAST!”
    . Sixth rate–Time for a second version of the “Boston Tea Party!”

    “Don’t ask–don’t tell”–How many people that you know simply keep a low profile and continue to fly–doing their own maintenance–perhaps no medical–perhaps without even a license? (“After all, it worked with ultralights!”)

    Not advocating any one of these positions–but pilots tend to be pretty anti-authoritarian and anti-big government. I can think of very few that think that the FAA is doing a GOOD job.

    I have an over 60 year collection of aviation magazines. It’s enlightening to go through them, and look back to the creation of the FAA (from the CAA) and the dissatisfaction with government control over that time period. One finds VERY LITTLE mention of GOOD THINGS to say about the FAA over that time period–so FAA dissatisfaction is not a NEW THING.

    C’MON, AvWeb–this is an excellent time to POLL YOUR READERS.

  12. Well, he was a CSM in the Army. This is a good thing, except if he was what he now appears to be which was a political animal. The US Army is a huge bureaucracy which makes it susceptible to all the same problems of any big bureaucracy. (The failings of which are now costing the tax payers HUGE enlistment bonuses because too many careerists won’t call BS on social engineering programs that go too far).

    I’m afraid he will not be someone who goes in there and gets them back on mission, but rather one who keeps things quiet and kicks the can down the road for the next poor sucker. A great strategy unless you get “unlucky” and your lack of mission focus blows up on you (which in the FAA likely means fatalities and/or large economic consequences).

  13. Since 1958, there have been 18 FAA Administrators, 10 appointed by Republicans and 8 by Democrats. 16 were white men, including 2 Latinos and 2 were white women. 5 were picks out of the military. No blacks in the count.
    Additionally, 19 have been acting administrators, 16 white men, 3 white women. Currently, ATP Billy Nolen is the first black acting administrator-BTW: my first pick for Administrator. Assuming no skeletons, Phillip (Phil) A. Washington will be the nineteenth FAA Administrator.

  14. That’s an average of 2 1/3 years per Administrator–but THE AVERAGE IS EVEN LESS THAN THAT, since the position has usually been left unfilled for months or years until a new Administrator has been appointed and confirmed–then a new administration appoints their own. Is it any WONDER that so little gets done (especially by someone without a strong aviation background?)

    FAA has always been “top heavy” with “administrative staff”. Here’s my test–ask anyone in the aviation business–“If YOU had a decision that involved the future of your business, would YOU ask the FAA?” I have yet to see a business owner say yes.

    Yet government appoints political hacks, rather than top-rated technical specialists or administrators. Take a look yourself–go through almost any aviation magazine, and see how many times the FAA is mentioned favorably and unfavorably. Is it any wonder that the FAA is held in such low regard?

    • The Boxes

      U.S.C. § 106 – U.S. Code – Unannotated Title 49. Transportation § 106. Federal Aviation Administration

      (a)  The Federal Aviation Administration is an administration in the Department of Transportation.
      (b)  The head of the Administration is the Administrator, who shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.  When making an appointment, the President shall consider the fitness of the individual to carry out efficiently the duties and powers of the office.  Except as provided in subsection (f) or in other provisions of law, the Administrator reports directly to the Secretary of Transportation.  The term of office for any individual appointed as Administrator after August 23, 1994, shall be 5 years.

      (c)  The Administrator must–
      (1)  be a citizen of the United States; ✅
      (2)  be a civilian;  and ✅
      (3)  have experience in a field directly related to aviation.✅

      (d)(1)  The Administration has a Deputy Administrator, who shall be appointed by the President.  In making an appointment, the President shall consider the fitness of the appointee to efficiently carry out the duties and powers of the office.  The Deputy Administrator shall be a citizen of the United States and have experience in a field directly related to aviation.  An officer on active duty in an armed force may be appointed as Deputy Administrator.  However, if the Administrator is a former regular officer of an armed force, the Deputy Administrator may not be an officer on active duty in an armed force, a retired regular officer of an armed force, or a former regular officer of an armed force. ✅

  15. Background was in “Urban Transit.”

    Only aviation background was as another political appointee as an Airport Director–that is–another administrative job. No aviation background.

    Is it any wonder that the article describes support from aviation groups (the VERY PEOPLE the appointee would “regulate”) as “TEPID”? (defined as “showing little enthusiasm” or “lukewarm”)?

    And FAA (and government in general) wonders why they are the butt of so many jokes (“I’m from the FAA, and here to help you”)