Appearing FAA Administrator to Step Down
Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen has announced that he intends to step down from the position this summer.
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The announcement comes shortly after Denver Airport CEO Phillip Washington, President Biden’s first nominee for the position, withdrew from the appointment process at the end of last month over questions about his level of experience in the aviation industry.
For the drone industry – and aviation in general – the last few years have been plagued by a lack of long term leadership and a series of emergencies that have required the agency to focus on putting out fires.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, nominated by President Barack Obama, served from 2013 – 2018. Acting Administrator Dan Elwell served from January 2018 until Steve Dickson, President Donald Trump’s nominee, was confirmed in July of 2019. There has been no Senate-confirmed FAA Administrator for more than a year, since former Administrator Steve Dickson left the agency in March 2022 mid-way through his appointment. Nolen was appointed Acting Administrator after Dickson’s departure, and has served for a year.
Dickson’s confirmation came only months after a series of Boeing 737 crashes brought the agency’s safety certification processes under close scrutiny. During Nolen’s tenure as Acting FAA Administrator, a series of flight delays, a highly publicized issue in the FAA’s NOTAM system in January, and a spate of runway incidents categorized as “near misses” have kept the FAA in the headlines.
In a memo to staff, Nolen named – as did Steve Dickson – the need to focus on his family as his reason for leaving. “But now it is time for a new captain to guide the FAA,” writes Nolen.
As President Biden looks for a new nominee to fill the position, FAA Reauthorization also looms. The House finished a March series of hearings about aviation safety, consumer flight experience, and the future of aviation in the US Between 2012 and 2018, the agency lacked a Senate-approved reauthorization and funding package: operations continued under a series of last minute extensions . Negotiations on a reauthorization package failed in 2016 over a proposal to privatize Air Traffic Control, and it took two more years for Congress to come to agreement. Current FAA Authorization will expire on September 30, 2023.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) published a statement on Nolen’s departure, praising Nolen’s leadership but emphasizing that the top spot at the FAA cannot remain vacant:
“This should be a wakeup call for the President and his administration to fill the FAA’s ever-increasing leadership vacuum with highly qualified people without any further delay. Our aviation system is under stress, and with Congress actively working to reauthorize the policies and programs of the FAA, it’s critical that these vital roles within the agency do not continue to go unfilled.”
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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