Senate confirms FAA leader after 19-month vacancy

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Michael Whitaker to a five-year term running the Federal Aviation Administration.

Whitaker is a former Obama-era deputy FAA administrator, and said at his confirmation hearing earlier this month that his past “time at FAA gives me some real advantage” taking the top job. Most recently he was an executive at a company developing electric air taxis, and he previously served in senior roles at several airlines, including United Airlines.

Now, Whitaker takes the reins at the FAA as the agency, in his words, “faces big challenges.”

Among his first priorities, industry officials say, is providing a steady, consistent hand atop FAA, which oversees aviation safety, air traffic control and aircraft certification. The FAA has come under scrutiny after a series of airliner close calls on US runways, flight disruptions linked to air traffic control understaffing and the killing of 346 people in Boeing 737 MAX crashes after the FAA certified the plane as safe.

Whitaker has also said he would prioritize technological and other improvements for “the aviation system of the future.”

“When I was at the FAA just a few years ago drones were new, commercial space launches were rare and flying taxis were still only in cartoons,” Whitaker said at his confirmation hearing. “All of this has changed and it requires that the agency look forward, adapt quickly and execute a plan for the future.”

He has support from a variety of aviation industry groups, including those representing airlines, pilots and airline passengers.

He is the Biden administration’s second FAA chief nominee. The first, Denver airport CEO Phil Washington, withdrew his name over criticism of his limited aviation experience and link to a political corruption investigation.

The post was vacated in March 2022 when Steve Dickson, who was nominated by President Donald Trump, stepped down midway through his five-year term. The agency has been run by a series of interim administrators, most recently the deputy transportation secretary.

CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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