An American Airlines plane takes off from Los Angeles International Airport on Oct. 1, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama | Getty Images)
President Joe Biden chose a new nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday, months after the U.S. Senate blocked his first choice.
Biden intends to nominate Michael G. Whitaker, an executive at Supernal, a company working on an electric air vehicle, and a former deputy FAA administrator during President Barack Obama’s administration, according to a news release from the White House.
Biden’s previous pick, Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington, withdrew from consideration in March after Senate Republicans opposed his confirmation. They raised a host of objections, including that Washington, who’d spent much of his career in the U.S. Army and public transit agencies, did not possess enough aviation experience.
That criticism would not apply to Whitaker. The White House touted his “more than three-decade aviation career” that included stints at United Airlines and Trans World Airlines, which later was acquired by American Airlines. Whitaker is also a private pilot, the White House said. He graduated from Georgetown University’s law school, the release said.
Republicans had said Washington’s 24-year military career disqualified him from leading the FAA, which is required by law to have a civilian administrator. Democratic supporters noted Washington retired from the military in 2000 and said he met the civilian qualification.
The White House statement and a LinkedIn profile for Whitaker did not list any military service.
The FAA has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since Stephen Dickson left office at the end of March 2022. Biden nominated Washington a few months later in July.
Democrats, including Colorado’s Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, largely supported Washington, but he needed unanimous Democratic support to clear the closely divided chamber.
Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema – key moderates on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that considered Washington’s nomination – did not declare a position on Washington.
A spokesperson for Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, did not immediately respond Thursday to messages seeking comment on Biden’s choice of Whitaker.
In a statement, ranking committee Republican Ted Cruz of Texas criticized Biden’s nominees for other agencies and said the committee “must carefully evaluate Mike Whitaker’s qualifications, experience, and temperament to determine whether he is the right person to lead the agency at this critical juncture.”
Having a full-time leader at the FAA is important to aviation interest groups, who are eager to have someone confirmed.
“The FAA needs permanent leadership at the top,” Kevin Burke, the CEO of one such group, Airports Council International-North America, said in a statement. “Mike Whitaker brings immense experience in aviation – including his tenure as the FAA’s Deputy Administrator – that will allow him to engage immediately in important policy, regulatory, and infrastructure funding priorities we continue to confront.”
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