Sen. Ted Cruz says Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen would be a slam dunk to take the permanent appointment if the Biden administration nominated him. Cruz, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which is reviewing the nomination of Phil Washington to the post, has stridently opposed the appointment, citing Washington’s relative lack of aviation experience. He’s currently CEO of Denver International Airport but most of his experience since he retired from the Army 20 years ago has been in public transit.
Nolen had a long career as an American Airlines pilot before becoming its manager of flight safety. He also served in senior executive posts for Airlines for America, Qantas and WestJet in an aviation career spanning 33 years. He joined the FAA as its associate administrator for aviation safety. “I think it’s clear that Phil Washington is not going to have the votes,” Cruz said. “I think a nominee like Acting Administrator Nolen would receive widespread bipartisan support and could get confirmed quickly.” Meanwhile, previous FAA Administrators Michael Huerta and Jane Garvey have signed a letter of support for Washington, saying “he has the necessary experience to be administrator,” and Nolen himself has voiced his endorsement of Washington’s appointment.
Nolen was back before lawmakers to address growing concerns about the number of runway incursions involving airliners in recent weeks. The most recent revelation is of a Feb. 16 incident at Sarasota-Bradenton airport in which an Air Canada Rouge A321 was cleared for takeoff while an American Boeing 737 was cleared to land on the same runway. He said the FAA is investigating every incident “as if it had been an actual event” and that the agency is fully engaged on the issue. “The FAA absolutely has a grasp on the situation and it’s something that we look at every day,” Nolen told reporters. “We’ll take a look at these near misses and see if there are lessons to be learned.” Nolen has organized a meeting of industry officials next week to discuss safety issues.
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