By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration needs permanent leadership and is at a “crossroads,” President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the agency plans to tell U.S. lawmakers in written remarks seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
Nominee Phil Washington, currently CEO of Denver International Airport, will tell U.S. Senators at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that the “FAA is at a crossroads – an agency that must protect the safest era in aviation, modernize its technology, lift employee morale while staffing up, and maintain its global leadership in aviation,” according to written testimony seen by Reuters.
Acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen said this month he was forming a team of experts to review air safety and will hold a safety summit in March after several recent near-miss incidents raised questions about the U.S. aviation system.
“We need permanent leadership at the top of the FAA to
address the challenges that we have seen in the last several years,” Washington’s testimony says.
Republicans have criticized Washington’s nomination citing his limited aviation experience and the FAA’s performance. “The FAA is running on autopilot. You can only run on autopilot so long before you run out of gas, you wake up and you’re over Utah,” said Representative Sam Graves, a Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee overseeing the FAA.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating a series of serious close calls including a near collision last month between FedEx and Southwest Airlines planes in Austin and a runway incursion at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
The FAA is investigating a new close call between a Learjet and a JetBlue flight on Monday at Boston Logan. The FAA said a Learjet 60 pilot took off without clearance while JetBlue Flight 206 was preparing to land on an intersecting runway.
In January, the FAA halted all departing passenger airline flights for nearly two hours because of a computer outage, the first nationwide ground stop of its kind since Sept. 11, 2001.
The United States has not had a major fatal U.S. passenger airline crash since February 2009.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)