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Sun, Mar 19, 2023

DOT Asserts Phil Washington Requires No Waiver

Biden FAA Boss Nominee Unable to Pass Private Pilot Knowledge Test

The White House has stated that Phil Washington, Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), needs no waiver from Congress to be confirmed.

Appointment to high positions in numerous federal regulatory agencies are expressly predicated upon nominees being civilians, not military personnel. Previous FAA nominees with retired military status—specifically, those who served twenty-or-more years in uniform—were required to secure waivers from both the House and Senate. The Biden White House, however, has deemed somehow that Phil Washington is an exception to the requirement.

Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, has insisted FAA nominee Washington must secure a waiver due to his retired military status. Senator Cruz—a Constitutional attorney who’s argued before the Supreme Court no fewer than nine times—cited federal precedent, which sets forth unequivocally that the FAA administrator must be a civilian.

Nevertheless, U.S. Department of Transportation general counsel john Putman stated in a letter to Senator Cruz that Washington, since retiring from the U.S. Army in 2000 after 24 years of service, has “engaged in solely civilian pursuits and clearly fits the plain and widely understood meaning of the word.”

Putman’s letter continued: “No further analysis is required to confirm Mr. Washington’s eligibility. If Congress had wanted to impose additional restrictions on individuals with prior service in the military, it could have done so.”

In a statement of her own, Republican Senate Commerce Committee spokesperson Melissa Braid asserted: “Congress and the President have strictly, repeatedly, and on a bipartisan basis interpreted the law, since it was written, as excluding retired military members like Phil Washington.”

The matter of waivers notwithstanding, Washington, who took over as CEO of Denver International Airport (DEN) in 2021, seems to lack the aviation knowledge and experience to lead the Federal Aviation Administration—the world’s largest, most powerful and influential regulatory agency.

“If Senate Democrats force this nomination through without a waiver, a legal cloud will hang over every single FAA action,” Senator Cruz said at Washington’s nomination hearing earlier this month.

At that same hearing, Senator Cruz asked Washington to cite the proper aircrew actions in the event of contradictory right and left-side AOA indications.

"Human reaction needs to take over," Washington replied.

"Why did that not happen on the Lion Air and Ethiopian Air flights?" Cruz pressed.

"Senator, I'm not a pilot — I don't know if I can answer that particular question," Washington faltered.

Cruz fired back, stating that Washington's answer was part of the "fundamental problem" with his nomination.

North Carolina GOP Senator Ted Budd also questioned Washington, inquiring: “Mr. Washington, can you quickly tell me what airspace requires an ADS-B transponder?”

Washington replied: “I’m not sure I can answer that question right now.”

Senator Budd continued: “What are the six types of Special Use Airspace that protect this [U.S.] national security and that appear on FAA charts?”

Washington responded: “Sorry, Senator; I cannot answer that question.”

And so the hearing proceeded, Washington failing utterly to answer question after rudimentary question—the entirety of which appear on the FAA Recreational and Private Pilot Knowledge Tests.

Citing recent egregious regulatory and organizational shortfalls—to include the 10 January 2023 shutdown of domestic flight operations attributable to failure of the NOTAM system and numerous air-traffic incidents at U.S. airports—Republican lawmakers argue the need for an experienced, germanely perspicacious FAA Administrator is self-evident. Conversely, Democrats—inured, apparently, to time-honored maxims pertaining to the concomitance of haste and waste—contend the FAA simply needs new leadership as soon as possible.

Savvy readers will note that FAR 119.71 sets forth that to serve as Director of Operations for a certificate holder conducting Part 135 charter operations for which the pilot in command is required to hold an airline transport pilot certificate, an applicant must also hold an airline transport pilot certificate and either:

(1) Have at least three years supervisory or managerial experience within the last 6 years in a position that exercised operational control over any operations conducted under part 121 or part 135.

(2) In the case of a person becoming Director of Operations -

(i) For the first time ever, have at least three years’ experience, within the past six years, as pilot in command of an aircraft operated under part 121 or part 135.

(ii) In the case of a person with previous experience as a Director of Operations, have at least three years’ experience, as pilot in command of an aircraft operated under part 121 or part 135.

That the appointment to the station of a private charter outfit’s Director of Operations is regulated by such stringent FAA prerequisites lies counter to the apparent fact that the job of heading the FAA is apparently open to any political appointee regardless of experience int he specific discipline they are asked to administer.



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