The FAA’s top safety official will become the interim administrator when current boss Steve Dickson officially steps down on Thursday. Billy Nolen is the associate administrator for aviation safety and has only been on the job for three months. He took the job in January after serving as the vice president for safety, security and quality at WestJet, Canada’s second-largest airline. He’s a former American Airlines pilot who also worked in executive roles at Qantas and for the industry trade group Airlines for America. Bradley Mims, the deputy administrator, will stay in that role but with expanded responsibilities. President Biden hasn’t yet nominated a permanent replacement for Dickson.
Nolen takes over the agency as safety issues will undoubtedly take up the bulk of his time. The lingering effects of the uncertainty caused by the flawed certification of the Boeing 737 MAX were compounded by the agency’s announcement that it’s likely the latest model of the aircraft, the MAX 10, will face extended certification delays. The mysterious crash of an earlier generation 737-800 in China last week has also prompted calls for a review about that iteration of the world’s most numerous airliner. “Billy Nolen has extensive expertise in aviation and a deep understanding of the vital role the FAA plays in ensuring the safety of the traveling public,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “We are grateful to Steve for his service and to Billy and Brad for stepping up to lead the FAA during this critical time.” Dickson announced his resignation in February, saying he wants to spend more time with his family.