Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen has announced he’s leaving the agency this summer, leaving an even bigger leadership void in an organization that hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed leader for more than a year. Nolen announced his departure in a letter to FAA staff first reported by The Wall Street Journal. He told staff he wants to focus more on his family. He did not say if he has another job lined up, and the Journal says he’s ruled himself out of taking the top job himself. Nolen has led the agency during a particularly difficult year that saw several airline system meltdowns and series of potentially catastrophic runway incursions involving airliners.
It would appear Nolen intends to stay on until the Biden administration nominates a new candidate and he or she is confirmed. Biden’s previous pick for the job, Phil Washington, withdrew from consideration last month after a rough ride during Senate confirmation hearings. His lack of aviation experience and his brush with a corruption scandal during his time leading the Los Angeles transit system drew intense opposition from Republican members, and some Democrats had reportedly also expressed reservations about his qualifications. During those hearings Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lobbied for Nolen to be nominated, saying he would draw strong bipartisan support.
Nolen had only been with the agency for a few months as head of safety when Administrator Steve Dickson resigned (to spend more time with his family). He returned to the U.S. to join the FAA after serving as the head of safety for Canadian airline WestJet. Before going to Canada he was a pilot for American Airlines and also held safety positions at American and Qantas. He also worked for the airline association Airlines for America.
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