Biden Expected To Nominate Phillip Washington For FAA Administrator

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The Biden administration is planning to nominate Phillip Washington as the next FAA administrator, according to a report from The Seattle Times. Washington is currently serving as CEO of Denver International Airport (DEN), a position he has held since July 12, 2021, and his first aviation-related role. Before taking over at DEN, he worked as CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and CEO of the Denver Regional Transportation District.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Washington served in the U.S. Army for 24 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Columbia College, a master’s in management from Webster University and is a graduate of the Harvard University Kennedy School for Senior Executives in State and Local Government. In addition, Washington led the Biden administration’s transportation team during the presidential transition.

As previously reported by AVweb, former FAA Administrator Steve Dickson announced plans to resign last February and officially stepped down at the end of March. Billy Nolen, who previously worked as associate administrator for aviation safety, is serving as the agency’s acting administrator until a new administrator is chosen. If nominated for the role, Washington will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate prior to stepping into the five-year position.

Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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56 COMMENTS

  1. First day on the job –
    Administrator: OK people, what is it about this “aviation” thing I need to know? Bring me up to speed on what we do here.

    Deputy Administrators: We’ve become very, very good at doing things the way we’ve always done them.

    Adminstrator: All righty then. Carry on!

  2. Without getting political this is exactly what this administration has done with every other agency head. Nonqualified but checks a box.
    So much for getting anything done good for aviation or the country for another while, but, that’s what is now the norm with this agency.

  3. Pilot or not a pilot, the dismal state of DIA “should” disqualify him from any bigger role. That airport is a mess and has been a mess for years. I realize he’s only been there a year, but it hasn’t gotten one bit better since he took over.

  4. Seems like there is a lot of love for the FAA. 😬. Yep agreed, just checking another box with an unqualified individual. No one should head up a federal agency without firsthand experience and knowledge of said industry. Leave it up to career politicians to keep things messed up.

  5. Just what we need, another Affirmative action candidate with a history of a very short time in any government position. This guy has NO aptitude for running a giant Bureaucracy like the useless FAA. Hold on to you lug bolts boys, were fix in to get an overhaul.

  6. What a total joke, in a way im glad the greatest generation is all but gone. They fought tyranny on two fronts, came out leaders of the world and look what we have done with their legacy. We’ve gone from a shinning beacon to a total bloated embarrassment in 70 years. I wouldn’t let this idiot park my car.

  7. To paraphrase Master Luke, “Amazing. Every thought expressed above is wrong.” Everyone here who has run a massive federal agency raise your hand. Thought so.

    You all assume that the skills necessary to do so, have something to do with the title on the Administrator’s door. Simply put, the important word is “Federal”, not “Aviation”

    Let’s start with a few simple questions so your heads don’t explode all at once: Is it necessary to have tailwheel time in your logbook to get an ATP and a job piloting transoceanic airliners? Is it necessary to know anything about electronics to run a major TV network? Is it necessary to know C++ to run Meta? Is it necessary to know anything about anything in order to be governor of Florida? Etc.

    The skills necessary to running a massive government agency have nothing to do with the purpose of that agency. You might think your pig-farming mother could do a better job of running your state’s DMV, until she gets in there and finds out what it really takes to make that sausage. She might still do a decent job, but it won’t have anything to do with her agricultural skills, or much to do with motor vehicles, for that matter. Familiarity with fertilizer might be handy, perhaps.

    It’s all about meetings. Meetings with staff, meetings with stakeholders, meetings with meddling congress-critters, meetings with cabinet secretaries wrestling each other for budget allocations, jurisdictional turf, visibility, and ultimately, the power to do what you were put there to do in the first place. And keeping all those moving parts from colliding.

    If you happen to know that the cockpit is in the pointy end of an airplane, that’s gravy, but any more than that is totally irrelevant to doing your job. You’ve got deputies and staff for that. And endless memos.

    Don’t question the credentials of a new Administrator, question the sanity.

  8. One would initially ask about appointments based upon meritocracy, but since there is none in the FAA to begin with, it is moot question. But as usual Chip D is wrong on this too. Suggesting that it is not necessary to have a decent working knowledge of the industry and organization is normal, regular, and fine is the basest kind of ignorant nonsense.

  9. ‘Suggesting that it is not necessary to have a decent working knowledge of the industry and organization is normal, regular, and fine is the basest kind of ignorant nonsense.’

    Nope, it’s spot on. Not realizing the much more nuanced, practical working skills, knowledge and character needed of what is truly necessary for success as Chip ably laid out is the ignorant view.

    I’ve worked with the feds most of my career, and can attest to the accuracy of how things need to work beyond the ‘tarmac’ so to speak. The list of successful CEO’s and government heads that have performed beyond their limited knowledge base of their field of work is endless.
    Big pharm CEO’s without the slightest knowledge of chemistry, world renown restaurateurs who can only taste good food, mayors with no knowledge of planning or utilities, and on and on.
    Just another revealing distinction of the general ignorance of the working class and its grievances.

  10. Good managerial skills and surrounding yourself with knowledgeable people is what is required of a good administrator. The best pilot in the world without managerial skills would be a disaster. I know nothing about the supposed nominee and I certainly wouldn’t pass judgement until The senate hearings take place.

  11. “Good managerial skills and surrounding yourself with knowledgeable people is what is required of a good administrator.”

    Agreed.

    This begs the next question. How do you surround yourself with knowledgeable people? To pick out the knowledgeable people, you have to have some knowledge of what you are administrating. Good managerial skills come from having a working knowledge of what you are managing to have the insight to surround yourself with knowledgeable people.

    Unfortunately, most measure the success of the organization by the bottom dollar at the end of the year. As soon as that bottom profit/loss statement changes significantly in the either direction, in the case of poor profits, he or she resigns to “spend more time with the family”. Or if highly profitable, ends up being picked up by another company enlisted to do likewise. It doesn’t matter in either case the long term viability because expectations of leadership is measured in months and no more than 3-5 years. That’s why these job resumes are filled with major CEO leadership positions that change in very short order in various business venues. “Its all about the economy stupid.” No more no less.

    Or in the case of a federal bureaucracy, how do you expand the primarily tax supplied working capitol from year to year. His measure of success as a CEO of an airport has nothing to do with efficiency, customer satisfaction, aviation, nor is there competition from a nearby airport to compare his managerial skills to. He manages and expands income. The more income the higher measure of success, no matter where the money comes from.

    That is a perfect fit to maintain the status quo which includes not losing taxpayer supplied dollars from year to year, but also increase the budget from year to year. His military background plays a key role on how he thinks. Whatever he did and managed in the Army was ultimately geared to protect what you have while expanding the budget for more. Military budgets are not managed for efficiency. They are managed for protection and expansion.

    His resume is an ideal fit for the times we live in. The name Federal Aviation Administration has the bookend names that is the dominant driver of the middle. Federal and Administration drive or determines the future of US aviation. By its bureaucratic nature, it has to protect what it has and yet expand the income to ensure its growth. Hey, at least he has worked at an airport for 10 months. That qualifies him for the aviation portion. The rest of his resume ensures he handles the Federal Administration portion. Be happy, avgas will be around at least another decade, old airplanes will be older and yet the mainstay of the fleet.

    Bureaucracies stifle innovation. And that is the status quo. He will be a great Federal Administrator who heads up aviation. I believe the federal and administration portion will be his focus. Aviation will remain the same as it has since 1957.

  12. “Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.” – George Burns.
    None of us has a clue what this guy is facing, not even him. All we can do is gauge the results, maybe a year or so from now. In the meantime, speculation seems a little pointless.

    • I totally agree. It seems like these comments from self proclaimed experts are simply the vitriol of anonymous people spreading bad faith rumors. The comments section here has denigrated into a prime example of social media at its worsts. Most of these comments display total ignorance regarding large organizations, government or otherwise, and the expertise needed to operate them and shepherd the corporate culture towards the organization’s mission statement. Perhaps, what is needed is for AvWeb to appoint an editor, much like newspapers used to do. In short, if you can’t say something constructive, shut up!

  13. ‘In short, if you can’t say something constructive, shut up!

    C’mon, let’s not go there. Be your own editor. Just get smarter, more creative, or less affected. People will happily reveal their resting places without unnecessary provocation.

    But maybe grouping them will help…

    The late, brilliant George Carlin concluded later in his life, in order to cope with that issue, that he henceforth would see his raison d’être going forward as but to see mankind strictly as entertainment. Not individuals, mind you, he knew of our individual complexities and struggles, but ‘any group more than one.’

    It’s all entertainment, if you like, including this idea. Enjoy the show!

  14. From the Denverite 2 days ago:
    ““Phil Washington is a recognized leader across the transportation industry, and we are lucky to have him as our CEO … It’s not surprising his name would come up when these roles are being considered,” Theresa Marchetta, a spokeswoman for Hancock, said in an email.

    Washington took over at DIA last summer after leading Metro in Los Angeles and the Regional Transportation District in Denver. In his short tenure, Washington has overseen a $1.3 billion expansion and explored service expansions to Africa. Washington’s salary at DIA is now $346,975 after a recent 30 percent raise.”

    10 Months on the job, certainly been given a lot of credit for a $1.3 BILLION dollar expansion and earned a 30% pay increase as a result…and these facts previously commented on seemed to be perceived as some sort of “vitroil” from anonymous people spreading bad faith rumors? Seriously?

    No rumors fueling my previous comments. These are the facts of his resume used to present him to Congress for confirmation as the head the Federal aviation Administration spotlight by our current president. I think this adequately explains and defends my “vitroil” saying “His resume is an ideal fit for the times we live in. The name Federal Aviation Administration has the bookend names that is the dominant driver of the middle. Federal and Administration drive or determines the future of US aviation. By its bureaucratic nature, it has to protect what it has and yet expand the income to ensure its growth. Hey, at least he has worked at an airport for 10 months.”

    As a pilot and aircraft owner, I am not looking for “a leader recognized across the transportation industry” to lead the aviation portion of our fabled Federal Administration. Running the Los Angeles Metro system for six years does not give me warm fuzzies about his ability to understand the aviation portion of our Federal Administration. His credentials to oversee a 1.3 BILLION dollar expansion AND get a 30% pay raise to boot for all that effort…all in 10 months does give me confidence he will manage quite well the Federal Administration portion of the FAA. Therefore my conclusion remains we will have another manager of the bureaucratic status quo we have been forced to become quite accustom to. He will be another appointed Federal Administrator in a position that I have no vote to cast nor choice in any way as the administrator/overseer of all forms of US aviation.

    Its very hard to avoid cynicism when our president’s top choice for Federal Administration of US aviation goes to a man embroiled in allegations and resulting ongoing investigation of corruption and sexual harassment that allegedly happened while managing the LA Metro system.

    Is this the best candidate to lead the Federal Administration of US aviation? Is this the best candidate to oversee aviation certification standards, including emerging electric aircraft, the 100LL unleaded substitute, and Boeing…to name a few? He would not be my top choice. Nor am I feeling good about the trajectory of the Federal Administration of aviation of which I am a small part of…a stakeholder one might say…albeit a small one.

  15. Chip D: “Is it necessary to know anything about anything in order to be governor of Florida?”
    Dave M: “Just another revealing distinction of the general ignorance of the working class and its grievances.”

    Classy, guys.

  16. Lastly, Phillip Washington, has a good educational record and is a motivated individual. Washington joined the Army at 18. He would ultimately earn the highest enlisted rank before departing to study. He’ll do!

  17. I am trying to understand what this sub-culture of Aviation wants in an FAA Administrator. The way they present a case, it should be someone with tens of thousands of hours of experience in everything from tail draggers to the Airbus 380 yet at the same time so politically savvy as to truly know how to work Congress to get all the funding and policy changes that work for both GA and professional aviators along with not having negative impacts on airline companies.

    Dudes, that person does not exist.

    I also wonder how many who knee-jerk a response are seeing a little too much color in that skin and not even trying to look at the character or ability of the person.

    The FAA top job is a *political* job. If a person has good management skills, if a person knows how to motivate his people, if he or she understands how to balance the compromises that are necessary between vast differences in modern aviation, that is the person you want at the top, because no one is expecting that person to hop in a plane and fly passengers from point A to point B. If the person is of good character, is not doing this for personal or power benefit then they can lead even while learning from those below who understand the technical, but maybe not the political.

    Instead of bitching and moaning about the choice, ask, what would I want the FAA administrator to focus on, understanding the massive complexity that is modern aviation.

    Green energy fuels for airlines?
    Money for EV research?
    unleaded AVGas to stop putting lead in the air and ground?
    More responsible enforcement of safety by stopping abuse of inspectors at the GA level, but taking back inspections/review at the airline level?
    Does he/she relax recent safety regulations on pilot flying time (good for airlines) or stand firm on flight hours or relaxing minimum requirements for hiring commercial (good for pilots).

    Instead of starting right off with, “he’s a worthless human meatbag that will do nothing”, maybe state what you want to see changed, get enough people to agree (this is still majority rule for now, not rule by the few) and get attention to the cause. The man went from a grunt to a top person in the Army, he ran a major metropolitan transportation system and was CEO of a major airport. He is not an idiot, he has shown his work ethic, and given the rigidity of Washington today is brave enough to even consider the job.

    I’ll give the man the benefit of time to see how well he manages the job.

  18. He a Biden Nominee – if it runs on gas they aim to kill it. You can wait around to see how much he will screw up in the next two years but I think that shows a clear lack common sense, and perhaps any motivation to preserve the scraps we have left. His qualifications are perfect for what he will do, a leftist that tows the liberal agenda without question. Not being a pilot means he has no skin in the game, and that is the only skin that matters. Nobody gives two shakes about race, we simply find it repulsive that it’s considered a qualification at all.

    • “Nobody gives two shakes about race, we simply find it repulsive that it’s considered a qualification at all.”

      From Gen. Pete Quesada back in 1958 to the present acting Administrator ATP Billy Noles, 31 white males, 5 white females and 1 Black male have been in office.

  19. What I find interesting in the comments saying that we need someone with aviation experience is that most seem to be saying that: Aviation=Pilot. What about a life long mechanic? An aeronautical engineer? ATC Controller?

    We just had a career pilot in Dickson. The results were less than mediocre. Of course, he did his test fly the Max stunt, but that did nothing for safety, just a dog and pony show that most in industry laughed at.

    Being a pilot is not an overriding qualification for FAA Administrator.