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Mon, Mar 20, 2023

Biden Called Upon to Withdraw Washington FAA Nomination

Congressional Pilots Say Nominee “Entirely Unqualified”

Fourteen Republican lawmakers—certificated pilots all—have called upon Joe Biden to withdraw his nomination of Phil Washington to lead the Federal Aviation Administration. The cadre of GOP aviators cited Washington’s "zero aviation experience,” and his apparent ignorance of even the most rudimentary aviation principles, regulations, and orthodoxies.

In a letter to Biden, the lawmakers set forth: "While Mr. Washington honorably served our nation in the Army, he did not serve in an aviation unit. He is not a pilot, has zero aviation safety experience, and is entirely unqualified to lead the federal agency responsible for keeping the flying public safe."

The confederacy of GOP Congressmen and Senators pointed out that federal law requires the FAA administrator to possess "experience in a field directly related to aviation," and asserted Washington abjectly and demonstrably lacks such, writing: "The FAA cannot afford to be led by someone who needs on-the-job training, especially at a time when our aviation system is facing tremendous safety challenges such as multiple near-misses by airlines and the first nationwide ground stop of aircraft since 9/11.”

Signatories to the letter—Senators Ted Budd of North Carolina and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, along with 12 Congressional aviators—stated they’ve collectively logged thousands of hours of civilian and military flight time, yet Washington "has never flown a plane, never worked for an airline or an aircraft manufacturer, and never served as an air traffic controller."

"His aviation experience is limited to working at the Denver airport for less than two years," the lawmakers wrote, referring to Washington’s current role as CEO of the Denver International Airport. "In that role, Mr. Washington is primarily responsible for non-aviation matters, such as the airport’s shops, restaurants, parking, and buildings."

Washington’s lack of experience in the aviation industry was made obvious by Senator Ted Cruz (Republican, Texas), who, during the Biden nominee’s first Senate confirmation hearing, presented Washington with a number of basic aviation-related questions—none of which he could answer. Washington’s dismal performance compelled Senator Cruz to characterize Washington as "woefully unqualified.”

What’s more, 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—as Washington has—were required to secure waivers from both the House and Senate. The Biden White house, however, has deemed for reasons passing understanding that Phil Washington is an exception to the requirement.

Senator Cruz—a Constitutional attorney who’s argued before the Supreme Court—insisted Washington must secure a waiver due to his retired military status. Cruz cited both law and federal precedent setting 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, abjectly lacks 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.

Nonetheless, Putnam insisted and Democrat lawmakers broadly agree: “Mr. Washington’s experience not only meets, but exceeds the qualifications of the position when viewed historically.”

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 is confounded by appearance that the job of heading the FAA is apparently open to any political appointee.



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