Senate confirms Biden’s nominee to lead FAA | ET REALITY


The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Michael G. Whitaker, a former Obama administration official, to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, filling a key vacancy that had persisted for more than 18 months.

Whitaker, 62, was confirmed by a 98-0 vote, ending the leadership carousel that had plagued the agency for more than half of President Biden’s term. His quick bipartisan confirmation underscored the desire of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to install a permanent administrator atop the country’s aviation regulator.

Whitaker now faces the challenge of stabilizing an agency that has been in crisis and providing the air-traveling public with confidence that the nation’s air travel system is safe and reliable. A system outage grounded flights across the country in January, and a series of near-collisions at airports across the country have raised fears that the air travel system is under strain to the point of being dangerous.

The FAA has been without a permanent leader since Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive and appointee of President Donald J. Trump, resigned last year. In recent months, Polly Trottenberg, deputy secretary of transportation, has served as the agency’s acting administrator, but she was required to resign from that position this week because of a federal law that limits how long she could lead the agency on an acting basis.

Whitaker’s confirmation for the position, which has a five-year term, comes after the Biden administration failed in its first attempt to name a permanent administrator. Last year, Biden nominated Phillip A. Washington, CEO of Denver International Airport, for the position. But Washington faced harsh criticism for his limited aviation experience and withdrew from consideration in March.

In September, Biden nominated Whitaker, chief operating officer of Supernal, a Hyundai Motor Group company that is developing air taxis. He has a long resume in aviation and is deeply familiar with the FAA, having served as the agency’s deputy administrator during the Obama administration. He was also an executive at United Airlines.

Whitaker fared much better in the Senate, and Republicans and Democrats on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee applauded his extensive aviation experience. The panel approved his nomination in a voice vote last week, setting the stage for his confirmation by the full Senate.

“Whitaker’s overwhelming confirmation demonstrates the Senate’s commitment to getting aviation right,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the committee chair, said in a statement Tuesday. “There is a lot to do in FAA staffing, technology upgrades and safety improvements, and Whitaker is the right person to lead it.”

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