As a recent article in Politico highlighted, the clock is ticking on the current Acting Administrator of the FAA. FAA Acting Administrator Polly Trottenberg, the Deputy Administrator of the Department of Transportation, is limited by law to a term of no more than 210 days. This term will expire on October 25, 2023: at which time internal emails indicate that Deputy Administrator and former FAA Chief of Staff Katie Thomson will take over the position, failing a permanent appointment.
The position of FAA Administrator is a Presidential appointment which must be approved by the Senate. The White House has not successfully filled the position since Trump-appointed Steve Dickson, a former Delta executive, left the post midway through his five year term last year.
Is This Unusual, or Just How Long it Takes?
It takes time to appoint a new Administrator and to receive Senate confirmation: the Senate vote is often split along party lines. Former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta completed his five year appointment in January of 2018. The position was then filled by Acting Administrator Dan Elwell until Dickson was confirmed 19 months later in July of 2019.
It has been more than 16 months since Dickson left the position after only two and a half years, resigning as of March 31, 2022. Billy Nolen was named Acting Administrator beginning April 1, 2022: Nolen left the FAA to join Archer Aviation in June of 2023. Polly Trottenberg, the US Deputy Secretary of Transportation, whose previous experience was as New York City Transportation Commissioner, was chosen to replace Nolen as Acting Administrator.
President Biden’s first pick for FAA Administrator, Denver Airport CEO Phil Washington, withdrew his nomination amidst criticism that he lacked the aviation experience to run the agency. Mike Whitaker, former FAA Deputy Administrator and current Chief Commercial Officer at Hyundai’s advanced aviation company Supernal, was named as Biden’s leading candidate in May of 2023 and again reported to be the top pick by the Wall Street Journal in July: but has not yet been officially nominated.
Currently, the FAA faces uncertainty on several fronts. In addition to the problem of leadership, the agency’s funding mandate will expire on September 30. The House has passed their version of an FAA Reauthorization, but the Senate has not. When the Senate agrees upon their version, Congress will go through reconciliation process to come up with a comprehensive package. As September 30 draws closer, it becomes likely that lawmakers will pass an extension to the current package to push the process off for another few months.
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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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