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Democrats Cool on Acting Admin Nolen's Permanent Appointment

Out with the Qualified; Send in the Clowns

The FAA’s top spot remains occupied by Acting Administrator Billy Nolen—a former American Airlines MD-80, 757, and 767 pilot who put in stints with both Qantas Group and WestJet in the capacities of executive manager for group safety and health, and vice-president, safety, security, and quality respectively.

That Mr. Nolen is eminently qualified to hold the FAA Administrator position on a permanent basis is self-evident. Whether or not Democrats will back him is another matter entirely.

The withdrawal of allegedly unqualified Biden nominee Phil Washington from contention for the FAA Administrator position is among the few boons from which the beleaguered agency has recently benefited. Washington served admirably in the U.S. Army for a span of 24-years, but may have been no more qualified to run the FAA than a porpoise is to cross the Sahara on a motorcycle.

Notwithstanding his paucity of requisite aviation knowledge and experience, Democrats sought to see Phil Washington installed as FAA Administrator. Despite Washington’s dearth of germane qualifications, U.S. Department of Transportation general counsel Democrat John Putman stated in a letter to Texas Senator Ted Cruz that “Mr. Washington’s experience not only meets, but exceeds the qualifications of the [FAA Administrator] position when viewed historically.”

Senator Cruz has since set forth that the FAA, the traveling public, and the U.S. aerospace industry would benefit significantly were Acting Administrator Nolen appointed to the position on a permanent basis. Naturally, Cruz’s endorsement has tarnished Nolen’s chances to garner Democrat support.

Shortly before Washington withdrew from consideration, Cruz publicly floated the idea that he would support Nolen’s appointment to the FAA’s top job.

In an April 2023 interview, Senator Cruz asserted: “A number of Democrats have expressed privately to me that they think it is a reasonable suggestion. To be clear, I don’t know Billy Nolen, it’s not like he’s a Republican or a friend of mine. He was Joe Biden’s choice to be acting administrator, he just happens to be qualified for the job.”

Regardless of whether or not the Biden White House supports or opposes his elevation, Nolen has and continues to put in a good showing at the FAA’s helm, skillfully guiding the agency toward the resolution of its highly-publicized shortcomings—to include the convening of a productive 15 March safety summit which Nolen populated with ranking FAA officials and representatives of numerous high-profile aerospace concerns, organizations, and industry groups.

An aviation industry lobbyist who deigned, on condition of anonymity, to disclose the contents of private conversations pertaining to the White House’s stance on Nolen, stated: “He’s [Nolen] clearly running for it. I’m not sure Cruz’s endorsement helps him though. What I’ve heard is the White House is going to nominate someone in the next couple weeks. I don’t think they are asking the Hill what they want.”

The White House has, in fact, pledged to name a new nominee for FAA Administrator in short order. The Biden administration continues to resolutely turn a blind eye to Phil Washington’s lack of ability to lead the agency. In the days following his withdrawal, the Biden White House ascribed Washington’s exit to a Republican “smear campaign.”

Senators on the Commerce Committee confirmed last week that the White House hadn’t reached out to them vis-à-vis a potential nominee. Senator John Hickenlooper (Democrat, Colorado), a major supporter of Phil Washington’s, stated he’d prefer a nominee not currently working for the FAA, seemingly loathe to equate experience with qualification.

Meanwhile Nolen, estimably qualified and already proving a capable Administrator, has yet to garner even a modicum of public support from Senate Democrats.



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