President Donald Trump tapped a former Delta Air Lines executive to lead the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday, a move that comes as the agency faces renewed scrutiny of its safety standards.
The White House said it planned to nominate Steve Dickson for a five-year term to lead the nation’s top airline safety regulator, a position that requires Senate confirmation.
Dickson retired from Delta as senior vice president of flight operations last October after 27 years with the airline. His responsibilities at the airline included overseeing flight operations, pilot training, standards, staffing and scheduling.
A graduate of the Air Force Academy and a former F-15 fighter pilot, Dickson at Delta also served on committees advising the FAA, including the NextGen Advisory Committee and the Air Traffic Management Advisory Committee.
Delta issued a statement Tuesday calling Dickson “an admired and impactful leader who will serve the FAA and our country well.” The company said he “has the proven record and expertise to lead the efforts to improve our nation’s aviation system and ensure the safety and efficiency of our skies. We have no doubt that he will lead the FAA with the integrity and leadership that he has demonstrated throughout his career.”
The Atlantan’s nomination had been rumored for months. Trump was also reportedly eyeing his personal pilot for the role, a proposition that drew resistance from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The roughly 45,000-person agency has been led by an acting head since January 2018.
The FAA has recently faced a barrage of criticism about its safety standards and cozy relationship with airline manufacturers in the wake of two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max jetliners in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Trump grounded the Max 8 and 9 planes last week.
Prior to the announcement, the FAA had stopped short of grounding the planes. It said its review showed “no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.”
Delta doesn’t have Boeing’s Max 8 or 9 airplanes in its fleet. But Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, is among the U.S. airlines that fly the Boeing 737 Max 8.
In addition to investigating the recent 737 Max jetliner crashes, the FAA is also at the center of new drone regulations and talks to overhaul of the air traffic control system.
While at Delta, Dickson spoke out against a push to privatize the latter. In 2016, he said separating air traffic control from the FAA would disrupt work on the modernization of the air traffic control system known as NextGen. He said at the time that such a move would be “reckless” and added “we believe the more that is known of the details of this proposal the more opposition it will face.”
Delta softened its stance against air traffic control privatization the following year.
Dickson is the first senior airline executive to be appointed to lead the agency in roughly three decades, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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